“There’s an app for that.”
Apple holds the trademark to that slogan famously used in the 2009 commercial for the iPhone 3G. And I hope they don’t mind the usage of it here, because it’s certainly a true statement. Or, at least it mostly is.
No app tracks the progression of a virus outbreak. At least one didn’t at the time of the 2009 iPhone 3G commercial or on the ad’s ten-year anniversary in 2019.
And boy, don’t we all now wish the opposite were true.
Utilizing Our Utilities
As a society, we tend to pride ourselves on the technological developments that we’ve made. But as technology progresses, what about our social infrastructure?
Public health officials can only move so fast. Not because of incompetence, but because of funding or other political barriers. Technology made a grand shift between 2009 and 2019. The 2010’s were – and will likely forever been known as – the decade of the smartphone. Sure, their emergence was a few years earlier, but their popularity boomed after 2010. Now every company or service has a phone app – except for health agencies. For some reason, they seem to have been left in the dust of the smartphone boom.
Change is risky. Being risky with healthcare is, well, super risky! This could be why you can reserve a table at your favorite restaurant with the restaurant’s app, but you can’t book a doctor’s appointment with your doctor’s app. Though, the rewards greatly outweigh this non-risk. Were your doctor to have access to an app that you updated frequently, they could monitor your health remotely.
In the case of a public health crisis, this setup would be outstanding. Alas, smartphone integration with the medical system has been left behind. And now that we’ve found ourselves in a pandemic, we’re fighting to catch them up…
Too Little Too Late?
Countries, universities, and developers have been scrambling these past few months to find ways to use smartphones to track the spread of COVID-19. Some of these developments involve downloadable phone apps, others use the provided mobile network, and some utilize Bluetooth.
Countries are working to apply the advantages of this technology while simultaneously trying to ease the minds of citizens who are concerned about privacy. Other countries are opting to ask for forgiveness later instead of permission now and implementing the measures straight away. It certainly is a tough position. Lives are on the line.
Could you imagine if this sort of technology had already been established and ready to go at the start of the outbreak? Because Oxford University did. Using a city of one million as a model, researchers found that – in conjunction with the elderly isolating – the coronavirus outbreak would have been seriously suppressed or even stopped if just 56% of the population employed a contact tracing app.
From our current perspective, this is remarkable, and surely something anyone would be willing to do if it meant avoiding a pandemic. But unfortunately, at the onset of the virus, there was no such app. Thankfully, though, these are now being developed. Yes, they’re coming into play late in the game, but it’s better late than never. Experts warn of a second wave, and when that wave occurs, we will be much more prepared than we were the first time.
So, Where’s The App For That?
If health officials had access to a live database that included symptoms of at least half the population, they could monitor the spread of a virus. Countries are currently working to develop these apps. The United States has ‘Covid Watch’ and ‘CovidSafe’ in development. France already has ‘StopCovid’ live and Australia is using ‘COVIDSafe’.
You don’t have to wait, though. An app called Kinsa, which uses self-reporting data on user’s temperature, is currently live. So is Hyfe, which tracks user’s coughs. It can also be used to track the coughs of loved ones by you or your family doctor.
This sort of innovation is needed crucially in the fight against pandemics. A great deal of the population has a device in their pocket that could keep health experts informed on the status of their community’s health.
One major lesson that needs to be taken away from the current pandemic is that our everyday technology must be utilized for public health emergencies. Preventative measures need to be put in place straight away.
In other words, we need apps for this.