The time is now, if not yesterday
We thought we had a “system”
Prior to COVID-19, most areas’ public health systems were good… on paper.
Surveillance, testing, treating: processes were protocolized and professionalized. But along came a fast-moving, global pandemic, and with it the painful realization that our systems are largely unable to to cope, react and adapt to new realities.
Even without a global pandemic, the economics around public health were already perverse. Healthcare delivery is largely a function of health insurance coverage, which is linked to employment – just one look at recent unemployment numbers is enough to realize that the approach is not pandemic-proof. Another weakness which has become glaringly obvious in recent days is that those workers we deem “essential” (and who we count on to support society during moments of stress) are largely underpaid and overworked. Now that COVID-19 has come into play, nurses, deliverypeople, store clerks, etc. have become frontline workers tasked with saving lives at the risk of harming their own.
Protecting means predicting
Protecting those workers, and preventing pandemics from spinning out of control, requires more than just staying inside. We also need to do a better job tracking, treating, and testing cases. Crucially, we need to improve our early outbreak detection methods, which means predicting where an outbreak might occur before we have confirmation that it has occurred. And for this, we need to enlist tech: not only because it has the power to quickly scale, but also because it allows for health systems to interact with citizens in a way that doesn’t require physical proximity.
This pandemic has the power of pushing along efforts to close gaps between health delivery and technology with the goal of minimizing risk to front line workers (by people not practicing social distancing) while satisfying society’s
demands for immediate access to diagnostic tools. To achieve this, there needs to be a platform – be it an app or a website where patients can track and report their symptoms from disease onset through recovery.
Reducing unnecessary face-to-face interaction
Telehealth, telecare, and telemedicine are not new concepts in the medical world. But this pandemic has made clear that they are not just a novelty, or a cost-saving mechanism. They are a means by which we reconcile social distancing (a crucial disease control measure) with healthcare.
Close interactions between patients and their providers should be enhanced with messaging functionalities and virtual appointments readily available. The key is for patients to have access to care anytime and anywhere. With this integrative system, providers and patient care teams are given the appropriate analytics to monitor patients from
afar, intervening only if necessary. For physicians, burnouts are automatically reduced by not having to be in the hospital and going through redundant administrative tasks, allowing them to focus solely on caring for their patients. Not only will remote healthcare help slow the spread of any infectious disease, both patients and providers can have a peace of mind in knowing that they are practicing healthcare in a safe environment at the comfort of their own homes.
Time to get off the fence
Although having gone through extensive research and trials, they either still sit awkwardly on the fence between idea and execution or have not yet gone the true distance. Perhaps the human/face-to-face interaction factor of medicine has been hindering this progression in people’s receptiveness to change. Understandably, you’d feel safer putting your care in the hands of somebody you visit in a standardized hospital or clinic setting versus tapping through screens that feed you a plethora of information, half of which you are not interested in. However, thanks to the current stay-at-home as well as self-quarantine orders that hit a “pause” button on our lives, individuals have started to re-consider their healthcare options to further align with their own conveniences as well as improved safety for the general population. In return, remote healthcare has gotten a much-needed dose of motivation to progress for the better and is about
to turn a new page with the help of technological innovations.
With technology being the future and healthcare being an essential part of our daily lives, it only makes sense for these efforts to unite, equipping the health system with necessary armor against all diseases of any severity.