Treating COVID-19 Patients: What We Can Learn

Physician-scientists Jonathan Chen, MD, PhD, and Lance Downing, MD, have taken care of over 50 COVID patients in the hospital and in clinic since the beginning of the pandemic.

They were asked how their experience in treating those patients relates to BMIR’s mission in informatics.

How does your work with COVID-19 patients connect with your informatics research interests?

Downing: COVID has made many other patients delay visits to health care facilities and receive services remotely. An increase in care delivery away from health centers requires extending the reach of health care from the hospital into the home. One project I’m working on is Deepstroke, which aims to improve stroke diagnosis through machine learning algorithms. We think this technology can eventually be used to alert high risk patients that they’re having a stroke so they can seek treatment sooner. Another project is CARE-IT (Care Itinerary), which was developed in collaboration with Stanford Biodesign. It’s a mobile app that allows patients to learn about, record, and share advanced care planning wishes. It’s especially timely with COVID-19 because both the risk of severe illness is elevated and the ability for patients to have these conversations in person with their doctors is greatly impaired.

Is there another example of how informatics work connects to patient care?

Chen: While informatics tools are essential to enable things like telemedicine, I’m trying to take it to the next level, electronic consultation. In-person visits were already inefficient, and now with COVID-19, they aren’t even possible in some cases. So we’re working on how to facilitate on-the-spot medical decision making to reduce delays in patients’ access to care for non-COVID matters. There’s also our work in advanced clinical research infrastructure utilizing the Stanford Medicine Research Data Repository (STARR), where we have been able to give near real-time updates on clinical processes and outcomes surrounding COVID-19 enabling the CDC to improve their ongoing public health efforts.

Can you describe the breadth of the BMIR division?

Chen: We have intensive data analytic and statistical capabilities for informatics work, but we are also active in applying that clinically. In fact, understanding how informatics work interacts with real human health care is rare, but it’s a unique value that our division offers. While we do deal with abstract concepts, high technology, and advanced ideas, we also bring that to the bedside. Lance and I see patients, so we are literally on the front lines. That helps us formulate questions and inspires us to think about how to tackle things that couldn’t be done in isolation.

Inquiries about the work of Drs. Chen and Downing may be sent to

Lance Downing, MD

Jonathan Chen, MD, PhD