Addenbrooke’s Hospital in England, along with 20 other hospitals from across the world and healthcare technology provider, NVIDIA, have used artificial intelligence (AI) to predict COVID-19 patients’ oxygen needs on a global scale. The research set out to build an AI tool to predict how much extra oxygen a COVID-19 patient may need in the first days of hospital care, using data from across four continents.

The technique, known as federated learning, used an algorithm to analyze chest x-rays and electronic health data from hospital patients with COVID symptoms. To maintain strict patient confidentiality, the patient data was fully anonymized and an algorithm was sent to each hospital so no data was shared or left its location.

Once the algorithm had ‘learned’ from the data, the analysis was brought together to build an AI tool which could predict the oxygen needs of hospital COVID patients anywhere in the world. Published in Nature Medicine, the study dubbed EXAM (for EMR CXR AI Model), is one of the largest, most diverse clinical federated learning studies to date.

To check the accuracy of EXAM, it was tested out in several hospitals across five continents, including Addenbrooke’s Hospital. The results showed it predicted the oxygen needed within 24 hours of a patient’s arrival in the emergency department, with a sensitivity of 95% and a specificity of more than 88%.

“Federated learning has transformative power to bring AI innovation to the clinical workflow,” says professor Fiona Gilbert, MD, who led the study in Cambridge and is honorary consultant radiologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and chair of radiology at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine. “Our continued work with EXAM demonstrates that these kinds of global collaborations are repeatable and more efficient, so that we can meet clinicians’ needs to tackle complex health challenges and future epidemics.”

First author on the study, Ittai Dayan, MD, from Mass General Brigham in Boston, where the EXAM algorithm was developed, says: “Usually in AI development, when you create an algorithm on one hospital’s data, it doesn’t work well at any other hospital. By developing the EXAM model using federated learning and objective, multimodal data from different continents, we were able to build a generalizable model that can help frontline physicians worldwide.”

Bringing together collaborators across North and South America, Europe, and Asia, the EXAM study took just two weeks of AI ‘learning’’ to achieve high-quality predictions.

“Federated learning allowed researchers to collaborate and set a new standard for what we can do globally, using the power of AI,’’ says Mona G. Flores, MD, global head for medical AI at NVIDIA. “This will advance AI not just for healthcare but across all industries looking to build robust models without sacrificing privacy.”