The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on the heroism and fortitude of healthcare workers around the world. It has also highlighted the importance of having the right technology to reduce the strain on those frontline workers and support them in their day-to-day operations, regardless of the pandemic presence or absence.
Due to the series of coronavirus-related notorious events, digital health has quickly come onto the world stage. Telemedicine acting as a substitute for in-person visits, and chatbots filling in for nurse triage lines represent just a few of the numerous healthcare tech applications.
We’ve decided to dig deep into the healthcare tech before, during, and after the pandemics. In this blog post, we want to unravel digital health predictions made before 2020, structure reliable information about the latest innovations, technologies, and trends in the context of COVID-19, and gather the most likely and adequate predictions of healthcare tech after the pandemics is over and done with.
How Digital Health Predictions looked in 2019: 5G, AI, IoT and Telehealth
There are lots of predictions across multiple industries at the beginning of each year. 2020 wasn’t an exception: you have probably run into some articles like “upcoming trends”.
We’ve managed to gather the most popular predictions. Here is what Medical Futurist and some other tech and marketing companies have foreseen.
The main newsmaker among the technologies was certainly Artificial Intelligence (AI). Whether it is AI-driven blood testing for fighting neurological disease, AI for drug discovery, or AI to improve the regulations and patient care, the technology has been all over the news.
Naturally, other technologies tried to keep up. Augmented Reality (AR) has started to make the way in the industry, Magic Leap being the ambassador of the technology in healthcare.
At&T promised a big improvement for healthcare with increased speed of 5G networks. Quick transmitting of the big imaging files could help with diagnostics. 5G could also improve spacial computing, expand the use of telemedicine, provide better real-time remote monitoring, and be useful in many other ways.
Digital health acceptance by different governments was predicted to become wider, with Denmark and Germany being ahead of others in early official embracement.
This was more or less the picture of healthcare trends without bold predictions in regards to the pandemics. Elinext, as a software development company have completed numerous projects in one of our main domains – healthcare, and we were prepared to bring our customers the best products and services in 2020.
Suddenly, many of our processes have been altered together with the arrival of COVID-19. Let’s see how technologies are finding their applications now.
Technologies that Shine During the COVID-19 Pandemics
During the pandemic, AI and Telemedicine are the technologies that experienced the biggest boost.
AI Predicted the Pandemics
The technology can alert experts about an impending pandemic weeks, months. and even years before it reaches a country. It does so by digesting tons of data from news reports, airline data, and animal disease outbreaks reports.
Once AI picks up a trend, epidemiologists analyze it and issue warnings for authorities to take prompt actions.
BlueDot helped epidemiologists send out the first warning of the COVID-19 outbreak; even before the WHO and CDC did this.
Experts admit this was partially luck, as this type of AI couldn’t identify patient zero and an outbreak that would inevitably come. Anyway, it was a lot of help.
AI is not only being used to predict, or track the disease but also to help diagnose it.
An algorithm developed by the Chinese tech giant Alibaba can detect COVID-19 infections from CT scans of patients’ chests with close to perfect (96%) accuracy in less than a minute.
Hospitals in China are employing AI software to detect signs of COVID-19 pneumonia in radiologic scans.
As a means to look beyond, AI is being deployed to mine a load of research papers surrounding the COVID-19 which have accumulated since the outbreak. The White House recently announced such an initiative involving tech companies and academics, in hopes of getting more insights into the disease.
Telehealth Takes the Main Stage
Given that telemedicine is the normal way to provide consultations in the ideal digital health setting, as soon as authorities impose lockdowns or social distancing measures, nothing much fundamentally changes in the way people receive medical advice.
Before the pandemic, only 1 in 10 US patients had used telemedicine services.
Amwell’s telemedicine app usage went up by 158% since January, and appointments through PlushCare increased by 70%.
In Denmark, the government and health IT vendors created a video-consultation app that saw 5,000 downloads within 15 minutes from its release.
Before the pandemics, StartUs Insights have analyzed 290 telehealth startups that operate in telehealth and are likely to stay relevant after the pandemics. The ones they’ve chosen to highlight are mostly from the US: Curatess, Eko, eVisit, and VivifyHealth, with British guests in the chart called Welldoing.
The US-based startup Curatess creates a HIPAA-compliant remote care management platform that allows patients to remotely visit doctors via high-definition audio and video calls.
Eko, a company from the USA, builds DUO, an FDA-approved combination of an electronic stethoscope and a handheld ECG. The stethoscope, Eko CORE, provides high-fidelity lung auscultation to detect sounds associated with pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the most recurring complications of COVID-19.
The British company Welldoing provides a therapist matching service for in-person and online therapy. The therapists on this platform offer patients their help to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and grief. This is potentially useful in countries with a higher number of deaths from COVID-19, where quarantine rules still remain. The platform also offers patients a personalized matching service, helping them connect with suitable therapists for their problems.
The US-based startup eVisit offers VirtualED, a coronavirus-specific workflow configuration of their telehealth platform. The platform enables doctors to conduct virtual screenings for COVID-19, as well as treat non-emergency patients at home. Besides a two-way video that enables virtual consultations with doctors, the platform also includes the virtual waiting room, access to family accounts, and a live chat.
Vivify Health, a company based in the US works on a remote patient monitoring platform that recently developed a new Coronavirus Pathway. This allows patients to conduct self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms remotely, by answering relevant questions. After self-screening, the platform provides instructions on what to do next. The information also appears in the Vivify portal so the physician can proactively reach out to the patient if needed.
If you are looking for ways to partner for delivering prime AI or telehealth solutions, contact Elinext to receive a free quote today.
Mobile Health and Care Delivery
In a digital health utopia, patient data and the myriad of security and privacy issues that it usually brings along are things of the past.
That’s partly because a blockchain assures the security of these sensitive data; acting as a transparent shared book of records of sorts; employed in a similar way like the initiatives Estonia is taking to secure its health records.
Additionally, governments and public health authorities are transparent about the use of these sensitive data.
Healthcare Life after COVID-19: What Will Change?
It is very hard to make any sort of prediction of reshaping healthcare tech. We’ve decided to take a look at the whole industry of healthcare to make general conclusions about the major changes.
Healthcare Workers Effort Can’t Be Overlooked Anymore
During this global tragedy, it’s not only the economy or the population that is being affected but also the healthcare professionals on the frontlines.
The latter are enduring extreme work conditions and sacrifices in order to help the infected.
Despite a shortage of personal protective equipment, they show up to work using DIY-solutions like ski goggles and bin bags with a high risk of being infected.
Many are working overtime and witnessed the patient after the patient succumbs to the disease.
This will lead to an inevitable spike in burnouts among the healthcare staff.
Even before the novel coronavirus outbreak, some estimated nearly half of the world’s 10 million physicians had symptoms of burnout.
Moreover, war-like scenarios where unclaimed victims are laid to rest in mass graves in New York are taking an additional toll on the medical personnel. More than burnouts, we will see the frontline with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
After this pandemic subsides, we will have to brace ourselves for the aftermath of medical professionals on the frontlines.
Trust in the Globalized World
In the pre-pandemic globalized world, we enjoyed a certain level of trust we mostly took for granted. We could travel almost without limitations, meet people without restrictions, and order products worldwide.
This will simply change after billions of people had to stay indoors for weeks.
We will not be able to travel that freely or enjoy the supply chains of the world so easily. We will think twice before going somewhere or to meet someone.
The pandemic is already exacerbating signs of social anxiety and agoraphobia. Regaining trust takes time and these trends will take place for months after lockdowns are lifted.
Focus on the Healthcare System
It’s tragic how the pandemic highlighted the shortcomings of healthcare systems worldwide. The overburdened hospitals need an upgrade on every level from their infrastructures to their processes.
These will be needed to ensure a safe environment for the personnel and patients, as well as to better cope with any emergency situations.
For example, one of the reasons speculated for Germany’s comparatively low death rate is its good intensive care situation.
Digital health showed its aptitude to deal with such a crisis. We can expect to see many governments put more focus on healthcare. They can adopt similar strategies employed by other countries that better managed the crisis. As people in the frontlines of the fight witnessed, with inefficient healthcare systems, we will not be able to handle the next outbreak.
While we’ll, unfortunately, witness the toll on our healthcare workers and face reduced trust, other changes could take place depending on countries, duration of lockdowns, and even personal experiences. Here are three changes we could see emerge as a result:
New travel document: the immunity passport
Such a passport will function in a similar way to how passports and visas work. If you are certified to be immune to the virus, you will get a pass to resume your daily routine, and if not, you will have to stay indoors. The U.K. government is already considering it and other countries might follow suit.
It might even become a requirement to travel to a country. As a matter of fact, it’s already happening. In mid-April, Emirates Airlines conducted rapid COVID-19 blood tests on passengers traveling to Tunisia from Dubai. “This will enable us to conduct on-site tests and provide immediate confirmation for Emirates passengers traveling to countries that require COVID-19 test certificates,” reads a statement from the airline company.
This sounds a lot like a divide between the haves and the have-nots and is the subject of ongoing debates. Some might voluntarily go out to catch the virus in the hopes of gaining immunity to it. There will be a lingering fear of unemployment due to being forced to stay in isolation without such a passport. Moreover, testing for immunity will inevitably result in false positives (people incorrectly identified as immune), undermining the efficacy of such a passport altogether.
Surveillance as an ongoing public health measure
No one wants to be surveilled, but what if it’s for the greater good? That’s what certain governments had to resort to in order to facilitate contact tracing. Countries from Germany through Israel to Singapore are using phone tracking data to locate and alert those who might be infected. South Korea went the extra mile by using CCTV footage and bank transactions in addition to phone use in its tracing process.
This could lead to certain governments, in particular totalitarian ones, to erase a layer of privacy from citizens’ life. It brings a whole new dimension to privacy and ethics issues as we’ve seen in South Korea. But under the guise of another major public health crisis, such measures could become the norm.
Brand-new habits of the general public
Awareness for personal and public hygiene measures saw a surge thanks to the contagion. Health authorities are advocating for regular handwashing with soap for at least 20 seconds. Social distancing measures are in place. People are getting used to wearing facemasks for grocery shopping.
These new-formed habits could linger way after lockdowns are lifted, leading to overall better hygiene. We might see people wearing masks wherever they go and unintentionally be more cautious around our elderly. Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the US, even thinks that we should never shake hands again. Vulcan salutation, anyone?
Less Likely Changes
Even if things will change, not everything might change. Certain aspects of healthcare should change to better attend to our post-pandemic needs. Let’s see three of the major changes we should see in order to make for a more compelling healthcare setting.
Embracing Artificial Intelligence as a necessary tool
We have stressed the need to implement artificial intelligence in the healthcare setting for years, but the novel coronavirus’ damage highlighted this need even more. We saw how an A.I. platform assisted in sending out the first alerts of the outbreak. Algorithms are used to help screen for those potentially affected. AI can help hospitals manage their resources. It’s even in use to speed up vaccine research.
These developments go on to show that AI will help us better prepare for the next public health crisis. These algorithms aren’t solutions in themselves but rather tools aiding professionals to perfect their craft.
The shift in the point-of-care
The importance of digital health solutions was made clear during these challenging times. They are ready-made options to bring healthcare to patients, rather than the other way round. Telemedicine use skyrocketed. We have a whole article dedicated to digital health apps helping people during the pandemic. Devices like digital stethoscopes, portable ECG monitors, and digital otoscopes can be used at home and the results shared remotely with doctors.
These eliminate doctor-patient visits whenever it’s avoidable and also help reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Such devices should become commonplace, shifting the point-of-care to the patient.
If this pandemic taught us anything, it’s that our life (as it used to be) is not sustainable for our planet. We all had to experiment with digital solutions, be it virtual meetings for work, digital education for students, and virtual events instead of in-person conferences. These proved not only to be effective but also an environmentally-friendly way to operate in a connected world.
We are not saying everything is going digital, but it makes sense to make digital anything that’s not more efficient in real life, if possible. Telemedicine and digital health tech already show their aptitude to make this a possibility. They just need to be adopted on a large scale.
This article completes our series of blog posts about the post-coronavirus business landscape. Stay healthy to bounce back with the industry you are most invested in after the pandemic is over.