Doctors from some villages and taluks in Karnataka have begun sending the chest X-rays of their patients to AI (artificial intelligence) models through a dedicated WhatsApp group.

Their intention is to make a decision on whether to send their patients to the district hospital for further treatment based on the report they get from the AI-enabled system.

Lung infection is one of the commonly observed symptoms of Covid-19, and many towns and cities in Karnataka are witnessing an increase in the number of Covid positives.


Tech help

Padmanabha Kamath, a cardiologist from Mangaluru who is known for his work on analysing ECGs through his CAD (Cardiology at Doorstep) WhatsApp group, has initiated this process in association with Bengaluru-based AI start-up NIRAMAI and IISc.

Speaking to BusinessLine , Kamath said that the Covid SWIFT (Simple WhatsApp-based Image interpretation at your Finger Tips) Rapid AI Solutions group has around 125 doctors from different villages and towns in Karnataka. The doctors send X-rays with a history to the group. The AI algorithms of NIRAMAI and IISc analyse them and send the report back to the concerned contacts.

Stating that the RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test is the gold standard for the diagnosis of Covid infection as on date, Kamath said a chest X-ray is only done to find out the involvement of lungs in Covid.

“This sort of technology-driven triaging of patients helps since we know who are the patients at risk,” he said.


AI deployment

Geetha Manjunath, Chief Executive Officer of NIRAMAI Health Analytics, told BusinessLine that the start-up, along with Chiranjeevi Bhattacharya of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), developed two AI models. She said both the models are working in different ways to analyse X-rays so that they do not err.

The results from both the models are given to the doctor concerned, she said.

On the choice of the WhatsApp route, she said when she was discussing this with Bhattacharya and Anil Kumar (a doctor from Shivamogga), she came across Kamath’s CAD WhatsApp group. Since he shared the same vision, this led to his collaboration with this project.

Stating that a majority of people have WhatsApp, and many small towns also have X-ray facilities, she said it was a matter of simple integration of these two factors to tackle the Covid situation.

The Covid SWIFT project was launched just this week, and the AI analysis results are coming out really well, said Manjunath. After getting the RT-PCR results, doctors have also confirmed that the AI models predicted Covid positive cases correctly, she said.

Village doctors looking for a proper result, can make the right decision before getting the throat swab results. It helps in the early detection and better immediate treatment as far as possible, she said.

Kamath said that this service is free of cost and will be highly useful in triaging patients with Covid or Covid-like chest symptoms, especially in cluster zones.

However, he made it clear that Covid SWIFT is only for guidance to the doctor and not a substitute for RT-PCR report. Patient’s anonymity and privacy is the prime concern, he added.