The world is emerging from one of the most severe pandemics in recent history, one that will have a significant, lasting impact on the global economy and how we live our lives. The damage and loss of life that COVID-19 incurred was tragic and stretched most healthcare systems around the world to their limit.
Although COVID-19 lingers, the dust has somewhat settled in most parts of the world, and we are at an essential point of reflection where we can identify opportunities to improve how we manage difficult situations like these. Throughout the pandemic, digital technologies played a key role in helping healthcare systems, governments, physicians, and patients manage the situation. Indeed, it’s not likely that COVID-19 will be the last pandemic we face as a global society, and having the right technologies in place can help curb or even prevent future pandemics. Here are a few key learnings about digital technologies and healthcare that we gleaned from the 18+ months of the pandemic. To be sure, none of these technologies are entirely new, but the pandemic certainly sped up their usage and adoption.
One key technological advance in recent years is the use of telemedicine, where physicians consult with patients using mediated technologies. This could be as simple as talking to patients over the phone, but the recent pandemic fostered a new era of video calling where doctors and patients connected virtually in a “face-to-face” setting. Indeed, the number of telemedicine visits grew by as much as 43 percent over the first few months of the pandemic. Given the affordability and flexibility telemedicine offers both doctors and patients, it’s likely this will become a far more common method of connecting providers and patients in coming years, particularly as both parties grow more comfortable and familiar with these digital tools.
A wide variety of industries have been developing and deploying AI systems, and healthcare is certainly no exception. Predicting outbreaks, modelling infection rates, identifying cancer, and helping hospitals optimize patient intake and management are just a few areas where AI can play a powerful role in transforming the healthcare industry. Using machine learning systems, disease monitoring government agencies can more effectively identify when an infection disease jumps from an animal to a human, the primary cause of outbreaks. They can also be used to identify infections, but that often requires a significant amount of data before delivering accurate identifications. What’s more, with many hospitals stretched thin for resources—particularly in the earliest days of the pandemic—a machine learning system can also provide support for diagnoses and predict which treatments a patient will best respond to.
The Internet of Medical Things is a relatively new term that describes a network of sensors that collect and digitize data, which can then be analysed and used to deliver a more proactive model of care, often from a distance. During the pandemic, some hospitals used wearable technologies to monitor patient health, transmitting pre-written messages to doctors, staff, or even family members on the patient’s status. This level of automated communication helped staff prioritize patients, while also providing a previously unattainable level of interaction with family members. As IoMT systems become more sophisticated and widespread, it is likely healthcare systems will benefit from greater automation and efficiency.
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