In March 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak had already snowballed into a pandemic, threatening global health and economy. The city of San Diego in the US faced a grim situation of overwhelmed hospitals, overrun clinics, and was witnessing an overall community in crisis. Coping with the influx of patients was turning out to be a monumental struggle. It was against this backdrop that a group of clinicians, scientists and healthcare leaders collaborated to tackle the catastrophe that was unfolding. A team from University of California, San Diego, (UCSD), was a part of this group.
USCD, which houses two large medical centers, the size of a micro city, expressed the need to find a way to keep patients out of the hospital while giving them quality care. This led to the foundation of the healthcare system, ‘HomeBound’.
Since time was of the essence, it was critical to build the new system rapidly. San Diego-based technology company Qualcomm was also part of the group and roped in TCS, having worked closely with TCS’ Research and Innovation Incubation team before on several innovative projects. Incubation Rapid Labs, an elite team of innovators that rapidly builds innovative solutions using emerging technologies, was the TCS team that developed the solution.
Safe, at home
‘HomeBound’ is designed to help patients collaborate with doctors, care providers and volunteers to manage the disease at home. The system consists of a patient-friendly iPhone and Android application for patients to share their information by uploading their latest symptoms and vitals to help caregivers monitor their progress and help them recover. HomeBound enables anonymous contact tracing and includes a dashboard for doctors to remotely monitor patients and provide advice. Furthermore, anonymized patient information may be used for research purposes, with AI or machine learning models helping uncover new patterns, co-relations, and assisting in patient management. The system is designed with a configurable backend where new knowledge can be added by doctors without programming.
It is also developed to be open source so that it can be extended toward the management of other infectious diseases as well, not just COVID-19. Integration with pandemic-related apps such as India’s Aarogya Setu is expected to amplify the system’s impact. HomeBound can be used by millions of patients globally, allowing them to connect with the best physicians, medical practitioners and experts anywhere in the world. Moreover, patients go through the treatment process staying indoors, within their homes, keeping themselves and their community safe.
A global collaboration
Within a week of being onboarded, Incubation Rapid Labs used a borderless innovation model to brainstorm ideas on how to develop the system, with experts from across the world brought together by UCSD’s Earth 2.0 initiative. Earth 2.0 is a network and open space for citizens to learn, share, collaborate and solve major societal issues. For HomeBound too, infectious diseases experts from the US and Europe, technology and design experts from India and the US, cloud-based infrastructure from technology partners such as Microsoft and business communication platform Slack, and hospitals across the US came together to support the initiative.
Incubation Rapid Labs used collaborative platforms to exchange ideas, develop and review code base, and enabled distributed teams to work at lightning pace. The outcome was a complex and rich system developed and tested with doctors and pilot users in just 12 weeks. Given that time was of the essence, several TCS associates across global teams contributed voluntarily, working late nights toward resolving one of the most important problems the world has faced in recent time.
Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, Assistant Professor of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health, University of California San Diego, explained how the TCS team was roped in. “We needed to keep people out of the hospital. Qualcomm knew of a team of extraordinary programmers in India who might have been able to help. We later learned this was TCS’ preeminent software development group, who agreed on-the-spot to support development. That was the moment ‘HomeBound’ was born … The story is that India built an app for Americans, and it can help all of us... maybe this points to a new way of working together on global problems,” Aronoff-Spencer said.
For many years, TCS R&I Incubation has been accelerating innovation, and creating exponential value and impact by solving tough problems innovatively using a combination of skills, emerging technologies and proven processes such as rapid research, co-innovation, market knowledge, and a lean and agile startup way of working. This has helped it deliver a twofold faster impact than average industry norms.
Acknowledging TCS’ expertise in driving the solution, Nikhil Jain, VP Technology, Qualcomm, said, “This was a difficult project and we needed some very good expertise to get it done. I had known TCS as part of my work at Qualcomm and had known the R&I Incubation group for many years. I admired what they did and approached them. We were then introduced to the Incubation Rapid Lab in India.” Jain added that the team in India took the initial concept and converted it into a fully working system within three months. “This project was not simple. End-to-end, it took a lot of expertise and they did an amazing job,” he said. Furthermore, recognizing TCS for being an ally, Jain said, “We are very grateful for (TCS) partnering with us on Earth 2.0. We will continue to partner. This is the start of a long journey.”