Digitalization helps fight epidemics
Improved hygiene standards and living conditions, advancements in medicine and technology mean that today we are better prepared to deal with pandemics. But perhaps the most game-changing factor is connectivity. We take a look at how connectivity and technology can help us overcome this current health challenge.
Connectivity and technology
Being connected 24/7 allows information to disseminate faster, giving us the ability to react with greater speed. How does this connectivity change the playing field?
1. Information exchange
- Smooth flow of information, quick exchange of high volumes of data, statistics, and treatment methods from all around the world, regardless of geographical location, can save lives.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and commonly available internet access is changing the way we collect and process medical data. Today, it can be obtained not only from medical and research centers, but also directly from patients via mobile apps and devices such as fitness trackers. This generates huge additional data input which, thanks to steadily growing computing power and increasingly advanced algorithms, can be processed quickly. This becomes a potent tool in supporting and taking strategic decisions.
- Advanced AI solutions and steadily growing computing power can help us to predict the spread of epidemics based on data such as infection rates and international transit numbers.
- New technologies allow doctors to analyze specific cases quickly – almost in real time.
- The number of self-diagnosis and triage websites is growing. Virtual assistants can support healthcare providers in tackling the crisis. Many healthcare providers have included coronavirus diagnostics sections on their websites.
- Rapid information exchange combined with the furious speed of research being published on coronavirus mean that diagnostic tests are being developed at a pace unthinkable of last century.
- Nowadays, it is more and more common to use genome sequencing when trying to understand and combat a disease. Today it is possible to sequence the genome of a virus in a relatively short time. The quicker a genome is sequenced, the quicker adequate treatments can be devised.
- Drug development is much faster. One of the reasons is that less time is needed to run clinical and pre-clinical trials thanks to moving them into the cloud and relying on big data processing.
- New biotechnological tools allow new approaches to immunization. Not only is it possible to inject patients with donor-delivered antibodies faster than in the past, but it could also be possible to administer multi-antibody cocktails that have been biotechnologically manufactured. The science is also developing around so-called therapeutic mRNA, which could produce an immune response directly in the patient (but without the contact with the virus).
4. Care at distance
- With regard to digital tools, there is also huge potential for delivering care at a distance, as recommendations for minimizing viral transmission call for people to stay at home. Virtual care delivery solutions (i.e. remote visits via mobile/tablet/PC) are gaining in popularity because during an epidemic more and more people choose a videoconference visit or telephone chat with a doctor instead of visiting a clinic in person. This is important for elderly people who need regular check-ups but are also at greatest risk from infection.
- Technology also helps patients to follow their treatment schedules properly. Today, monitoring tools remind patients of their treatment schedule. This also allows doctors to track adherence and spot any lapses quickly.
- Front-line medical staff exposure to pathogens can also be minimized by using robots to communicate with patients, administer drugs and monitor vital functions.
- Drones can safely deliver drugs to remote areas affected by the epidemic.
Although human actions are the most important weapon in the fight against disease, technology greatly supports our efforts in battling a health crisis.