New tool to address potential COVID-19 outbreaks

Researchers from the Alcoy campus of the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) have collaborated to design a prevision and simulation model that makes it possible to improve the flow of patients and assistance quality at the Department of Health of Alcoy (Alicante) and to manage the crisis derived from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The simulation model is presented as an essential tool to tackle future outbreaks of the disease and foresee the resulting state of saturation of the hospital. The model establishes an anticipatory control panel of the necessary hospital resources: human, technical, protection and infrastructure resources derived from the new hospitalisations, making it possible to plan, organise and manage the assistance service needs ahead of time, thus preventing a potential collapse.

"Therefore, it is a question of thinking ahead and protecting the healthcare system by providing a tool that acts as support for decision-making, in situations of great variability, for the hospital management team," says Francisca Sempere, researcher from the Alcoy campus of the UPV and project coordinator.

The initial data includes contagion forecasts determined from prevision models developed by researcher Alejandro Rodríguez Villalobos. These are complex prevision mathematical models created after learning about the contagion, its behaviour and the confinement observed since the beginning of the pandemic in Wuhan (China).

Rodríguez Villalobos has also developed the so-called 'outbreak generators' that intend to simulate the behaviour of future outbreaks of the disease. The objective is to generate different future settings: from specific outbreaks located in organisms, companies or events, to more generalised waves of contagion such as the one that has taken place heretofore. Different parameters adapt the model to each situation (outbreak duration, growth rate, epidemic speed, etc.).

The results of the outbreak prevision model and outbreak generators, feed the patient simulation model following their admission in hospital and their possible evolution through the hospital departments, ICU and post-ICU. Francisca Sempere is the researcher responsible for the design and implementation of this aspect of the tool. The simulation is based on the probability that a patient may enter any of said units and the time they will remain in each of them. For the validation of the model, as well as the analysis of the data and results from the Alcoy health department, data from other studies and contacted research centres have also been taken into account.

The obtained results establish the necessary hospital resources: human, technical, protection and infrastructure resources in a control centre that makes it possible to plan, organise and manage the needs of the healthcare services ahead of time. Furthermore, other graphic support elements are included, such as the map of the pandemic or the map that monitors patients that strengthen and provide a complete vision of the situation, not just at the current moment but in the future.

"The ad-hoc model is being updated constantly, as new data and studies on the evolution of the virus arrive. Due to its importance, at this time, the possibility of expanding it and adapting it to other health centres is being considered," says Francisca Sempere.

When José Enrique Soriano Barreres, medical director at the Virgen de los Lirios hospital of Alcoy and José Enrique Barbeito, manager of said hospital, contacted the Alcoy campus of the UPV, Doctor Francisca Sempere Ripoll, director of the innovation Cluster Group and professor at the Department of Company Organisaiton, was already working, together with other researchers from the same campus, on analysing the crisis situation in another health department of the area and producing a Contingency Plan for Covid-19.

The work team was comprised by Doctor Alejandro Rodríguez Villalobos (researcher at the Mixed Computer Technology University Institute), Doctor Jesús Seguí Llinares (researcher at the Materials Technology Institute, with experience in previous research agreements with other healthcare entities) and Doctor Vicente Diez Valdés (Department of Company Organisation of the UPV and former director of Human Resources at Valencia's Hospital Universitario y Politécnico La Fe), all of whom are researchers from the Alcoy campus, alongside the ROGLE research group from the Vera campus of the UPV, headed by José Pedro García Sabater.

"Projects and initiatives of this type highlight the innovative potential of Spanish Public Universities and the importance of cooperating with the Spanish Healthcare System, and shows the social commitment and the tremendous working capacity of its researchers, who have offered their knowledge and time in a totally altruistic way to a project that saves lives," concludes Francisca Sempere.

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