April 20, 2020 / By Molly Wofford and Joshua Baxt
Everything about the COVID-19 pandemic is new: the virus’s transmission to humans, the stay-at-home orders, the challenges many responders are facing. With so much in flux, providers are being asked to find new solutions. In response, a group of UC San Diego faculty, with the help of hundreds of students and community volunteers, has stepped up to create an online portal called Earth 2.0 COVID-19 Rapid Response.
The portal's first live component is CoRESPOND, a just-in-time research and innovation system that offers doctors, nurses, researchers and other responders a simple way to ask urgent questions and receive rapid responses from expert teams, providing timely solutions during this quickly changing crisis. The Earth 2.0 COVID-19 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. The platform is a collaboration between the UC San Diego School of Medicine, the Qualcomm Institute, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the Jacobs School of Engineering and many others.
Earth 2.0 Brings a Collaborative Response to COVID-19
Earth 2.0 was 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-19 Rapid Response platform was born.
“We wanted to reformulate the Earth platform so that researchers or healthcare workers could reach out and get answers, resources or even DIY inventions. Anyone can join the platform and add their expertise to the system, whether it’s clinical experience, engineering know-how or current supply-chain information,” 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.
Finding Answers in the Midst of a Crisis
CoRESPOND gives workers responding to COVID-19 ready access to information they don’t have time to research on their own. Through the portal, workers simply email 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 and innovation network, as well as an editorial structure to make sure the solutions 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, matched needs to resources and even developed new innovations in protective equipment. Questions have ranged from how long a person is contagious to how to make a face shield. Each query activates a network of more than 200 knowledge experts and several hundred students who provide the legwork, searching for answers, building innovations, 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. The team encourages everyone to join Earth 2.0 and contribute their expertise to the system.
“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 can actually be built in the places it is needed, 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: Sandra Brown, UC San Diego Vice Chancellor for Research and a distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry, Doug Ziedonis, UC San Diego Associate Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences, Ramesh Rao, director of the Qualcomm Institute, Henrik Christensen, a professor of computer science and director of the Institute for Contextual Robotics, Don Norman, director of the Design Lab, Nikhil Jain, VP and lead on the Qualcomm Toq smart watch, and Nicolas DiTada, chief technical officer at InSTEDD. The Earth 2.0 COVID-19 Rapid Response platform is also supported by many partners and sponsors.