Where Is the App for That?
Apple holds the trademark to the slogan famously used in the 2009 commercial for the iPhone 3G. And I hope they don’t mind its usage here because it’s certainly a true statement. Or, at least it mostly is.
At the time, there wasn’t an app that tracks the progression of a virus outbreak. On the ad’s tenth anniversary in 2019, it was still missing from the app store.
And boy, don’t we all now wish the opposite were true.
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 2010s were the decade of the smartphone. Sure, smartphones emerged 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, healthcare apps couldn’t keep up with the smartphone boom.
Change is risky. Being risky with healthcare is, well, super risky! You can reserve a table at your favorite restaurant with the restaurant’s app. However, you can’t book a doctor’s appointment with your doctor’s app, despite the rewards greatly outweighing this non-risk.
In the case of a public health crisis, this setup would be outstanding. Alas, smartphone integration with the medical system is behind. And now that we’ve found ourselves in a pandemic, healthcare is fighting to catch up.
Is Healthcare Technology Too Late To Join The Fight?
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 healthcare technology. At the same time, they’re trying to ease the privacy concerns of citizens.
Other countries are opting to ask for forgiveness later instead of permission now and implementing the measures straight away. But can one blame them? It’s a tough position. Lives are on the line.
Can you imagine what it would have been like if this sort of healthcare technology was established and ready to go at the start of the outbreak?
Well, Oxford University did. Researchers used a city with one million inhabitants as their model. The coronavirus outbreak would have been suppressed or even stopped if, in conjunction with elderly isolation, 56% of the population had a contact tracing app.
From our current perspective, this is remarkable, and surely something anyone would be willing to do if avoiding a pandemic. But unfortunately, at the onset of the virus, there was no such app.
Thankfully, though, the pandemic pushed the development of healthcare technology. Yes, it’s 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.
Recent Healthcare Technology Developments (Mostly New)
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.
Many countries currently use smartphones to do so. For example, France has StopCovid live, and Australia is using COVIDSafe.
There are also some apps in the United States, such as COVID Watch and ProjectCovid.
Furthermore, an app called Kinsa, which uses self-reporting data on the user’s temperature, is currently live. So is Hyfe, which tracks the user’s coughs. It can also trace the coughs of loved ones by you or your family doctor.
Machine Learning and AI
Now, more than ever, the public wants reliable healthcare information, and healthcare workers’ time is more precious. The healthcare industry is using artificial intelligence to bridge the gap.
Medical facilities are using chatbots to assist patients and educate them during the crisis.
AI-powered chatbots can ask questions about demographics to help trace infections, as well as recoveries.
Remote Monitoring and Wearables
Wearable health tracking devices were fast becoming the latest trend in healthcare, but the pandemic encouraged innovations to include remote monitoring.
These devices transmit real-time data so healthcare workers can monitor patients who don’t need hospitalization. It also allows them to intervene when necessary. As a result, the healthcare system doesn’t get overburdened.
People found new and unexpected ways to deal with PPE shortages around the globe. In addition to making shields and masks, 3D printing helps supply parts for ventilators as needed.
We’re using 3D printing in ways that no one ever dreamed of before.
Innovations like these are helping the world fight disease. One major lesson we need to take away from the current pandemic is that we can and must use everyday technology for public health emergencies. Many of the population already has a device in their pocket that could keep experts informed on the community’s status. So why not use it?
How do you think we can stop the pandemic and prevent an outbreak in the future? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!