The National Institutes of Health wants to hear from industry about digital health technologies that could help contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease cause by the novel coronavirus.

The May 26 request for information from NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the National Cancer Institute comes as states and cities across the country are in various stages of phased reopening. At the same time, President Donald Trump has been calling on states to reopen as quickly as possible, but experts warn that doing so too quickly could lead to a second wave of the disease. The NIH wants digital health tools to analyze public health data to prevent any future spread.

“At present, we have only the blunt tools of social distancing and quarantine to contain the epidemic,” the RFI read. “Being able to precisely deploy containment efforts only where needed may allow larger segments of the population to return to less restricted living and reduce the risk of recurrence of devastating local outbreaks."

The NIH is looking for a broad range of digital technologies. According to the RFI, the NIH is seeking information on industry’s contact-tracing capabilities as well as its ability to quickly integrate commercial COVID-19 diagnostic tests and other patient data in order to determine if a patient has the illness but is asymptomatic, and to identify a person’s risk of contracting the disease — in addition to strong privacy protections.

The NIH is also interested in technology that can identify movement patterns that could lead to contracting, spreading or containing the disease. Solutions also must be able to integrate new data quickly.

The effort also wants to focus on underrepresented populations and areas with lower access to health care.

“Novel digital health solutions have the potential to improve care, understanding of health outcomes, and risk factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic," the RFI read. "This is especially important in underserved populations, which are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and often have limited access to healthcare services. This is also important in its potential to broaden the geographic understanding of factors related to exposure, spread, and containment.”

The effort will be implemented through a “hub-and-spoke” model, in which the spokes, or the digital health solutions, share de-identified data with the NIH data hub.

“This will enable researchers, for example, to apply a risk classification algorithm developed in one spoke to individuals’ health data that was collected by other spokes,” the RFI read.

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the National Cancer Institute are hosting a virtual meeting with industry on May 29.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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