San Diego, Calif., April 20, 2020 -- Everything about the COVID-19 pandemic is new: the virus’s transmission to humans, the stay-at-home orders, the challenges many caregivers are facing. With so much in flux, providers are often being asked to find solutions. In response, a group of UC San Diego faculty, with the help of hundreds of students, has stepped up to create an online portal called Earth 2.0 COVID-19 Rapid Response.
A collaboration between UC San Diego School of Medicine, Qualcomm Institute, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the Jacobs School of Engineering and many others, the portal gives direct caregivers a simple way to ask urgent questions and receive rapid responses from expert teams, providing timely solutions during this quickly changing crisis.
Earth 2.0’s first live component is CoRESPOND, an emergency response Q&A resource for healthcare workers. The Earth 2.0 COVID Rapid Response platform will also include OASIS, a crowd-sourced information and resource-sharing platform, and HomeBound, an app to manage COVID-19 symptoms at home and a living data system to drive learning and innovation.
Earth 2.0 Brings a Collaborative Response to COVID-19
Earth 2.0 was first envisioned several years ago to solve global-scale problems through crowd-sourced innovation. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the platform was immediately retasked to help manage the pressing crisis and the Earth 2.0 COVID Rapid Response platform was born.
“We wanted to reformulate the Earth platform so that any researcher or health worker could email or text our system and get answers,” said Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, a physician-scientist with UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Qualcomm Institute. Aronoff-Spencer also directs the UC San Diego Design Lab Center for Health.
Aronoff-Spencer and Nadir Weibel, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and head of the Human-Centered and Ubiquitous Computing Lab, quickly pulled together several customer service, communication and collaboration platforms, including Freshdesk, Google Docs, Github, GrabCAD and Slack. From there, the team, which also includes Linda Hill, a clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, and Andrew Baird, a professor in the Department of Surgery, created CoRESPOND, an emergency response Q&A resource for frontline healthcare workers.
CoRESPOND is the first live component of the Earth 2.0 COVID Rapid Response platform, which will also include OASIS, a crowd-sourced information and resource-sharing platform, and HomeBound, an app to manage COVID-19 symptoms at home and a living data system to drive learning and innovation.
Finding Answers in the Midst of a Crisis
CoRESPOND gives healthcare workers ready access to information they don’t have time to research on their own. Through the portal, workers simply email or text their queries to email@example.com, and the system goes to work to find an answer.
Each email triggers a problem ticket, which is then categorized and forwarded to a system moderator, who immediately assembles a team of relevant experts. The platform uses Slack to enable and stimulate discussion among ad hoc research groups who reply to moderators with possible answers.
CoRESPOND then leverages uPub, an online authoring system, to publish open access solutions that can be continuously updated and made available worldwide. The answers are further vetted for quality and accuracy before being emailed – all within as short a time-frame as possible.
“In two or three days, we created a ticketing system and an ad hoc response group, as well as an editorial structure to make sure the responses were valid,” said Aronoff-Spencer. “We have been getting most responses back to people on the frontline in 24 hours or less.”
Since launching, the platform has received and answered numerous questions on everything from how long a person is contagious to how to make a face shield. Each question activates a network of around 200 knowledge experts and several hundred students who provide the legwork, searching for answers, validating the results, and sending that information back to the requester.
“We have people triaging the tickets and communicating back directly with the frontline workers,” said Weibel. “We have infectious disease and primary care physicians, supply chain people trying to figure out where to find masks and other important items, a whole team of experts.”
Some questions are easier than others as knowledge about the virus grows and changes, but all answers end up in a solutions portal where the information is accessible for future use.
“We get questions like ‘do people create antibodies when they're recovering?’” said Hill. “The teams will research what we call the gray literature, as well as the medical literature, and develop a response. The field is changing in real time. We have told our teams these are living documents, like a wiki, and we have the capacity to continuously update the platform and keep it current.”
The bottom line for the entire team is making sure they always provide relevant, accurate information that will be useful. Anyone can join Earth 2.0 and add their expertise to the system, and are encouraged to contribute, whether it’s clinical experience, engineering know-how or current supply-chain information.
“It’s not just an information exchange, it's a quality information exchange,” said Aronoff-Spencer. “For instance, we have to do more than come up with an alternative PPE [personal protective equipment]. We have to come up with an alternative PPE that meets specific requirements, and we can track those specifications.”
In addition to Aronoff-Spencer, Weibel, Hill and Baird, other members of the Earth 2.0 COVID-19 Rapid Response leadership team include Henrik Christensen, a professor of computer science and director of the Institute for Contextual Robotics, Dr. Doug Ziedonis, UC San Diego associate vice chancellor for Health Sciences, Ramesh Rao, director of the Qualcomm Institute, Don Norman, director of the Design Lab, Nikhil Jain, VP and lead on the Qualcomm Toq smart watch, and Nicolas DiTada.
Story written by Josh Baxt