On International Creativity and Innovation Day, a look at technology advancements and their impact on healthcare infrastructure.
If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 outbreak, the world may not have — at least at this point in time —realized the need to optimally use technology advancements to add resilience to healthcare systems, which have a tendency to crumble in the wake of too much pressure caused by a Novel Coronavirus-like global pandemic.
Within days after the outbreak, health and other organizations around the world created GIS dashboards to track the spread of the virus and trace the number of infected and deceased. In a span of weeks, private and public news broadcasters began using maps with color coding to highlight the worst-affected areas.
China, the country from where the virus originated in December 2019, was seen mustering all resources at its disposal and deploying cutting-edge technology to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and profile people at risk. Behind all these developments lies a quite process, under which technology innovation has been slowly, but steadily making a difference to our healthcare systems. Let us have a look at some of these technologies
Apart from relieving healthcare professions (doctors, nurses and other staff) of day-to-day activities such as spraying disinfectants and performing diagnosis, robots can, and to a large extent have, contributed in making medical procedures safer. These machines can be used to perform surgeries in cramped spaces and carry hazardous substances.
A study published in the Science Robotics says, “Robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls. As epidemics escalate, the potential roles of robotics are becoming increasingly clear.” When Coronavirus cases were peaking in China, robots were used extensively to prepare meals for patients in hospital and transport medical samples.
In the US, doctors are taking the help of a robot equipped with a microphone, stethoscope and camera to monitor and treat COVID-19 patients at the Providence Regional Medical Center in Washington. In the UK, scientists are working on what they call “the first healthcare robot” that will, apart from performing other functions, hold conversations with more than one individual at the same time. The project has been designed to help the elderly population in particular, and the people behind it believe that it will also come in handy in dealing with future outbreaks.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been transforming the healthcare sector in many ways. From discovering links between genetic codes to powering surgical robots, AI has been enhancing efficiency of hospitals all over the world. With the help of data analytics and predictive models, medical professionals are able to understand more about diseases.
According to the MIT Technology Review, Baidu, the Chinese Internet giant, made its Lineatrfold algorithm available to teams that were battling with Coronavirus cases in the country. The company further made tools available to effectively screen large populations at public places. One of such tools was an AI-powered infrared system that could detect change in a person’s body temperature. The system, which could examine up to 200 people in one minute, was used in Beijing’s Qinghe Railway Station to identify passengers who were potentially infected.
AI can also prove to be immensely helpful in medical imaging — AI and Deep Learning can analyze CAT scans much faster than radiologists, and in some cases can detect a disease in less than two seconds. The technology can also be used to maintain medical records, perform repetitive tasks, prepare treatment design and assist in medication management.
Like many other sectors, application of Big Data in the field of healthcare has tremendous potential. Since data collection and management is an indispensable part of good healthcare, Big Data can be useful in maintaining electronic health records, providing real-time alerts and assisting in medical research.
Based on the medical history of people in a region, Big data can help in tracing high infection zones and assist the authorities in taking quick and effective steps to prevent the spread of infection. In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, access to public information has led to the creation of dashboards that are continuously monitoring the virus and helping the authorities in effective resource mobilization.
With both individual lifespan and global population on the rise, Big Data has the potential to bring down treatment cost, predict outbreaks or epidemics, avoid preventable diseases and improve the overall quality of life.
Positioning technologies can play a crucial role during the time of a major health crisis. Since government and health agencies are the first responders in such situations, knowing the precise position/location can be the key to effective evaluation, relief and rehabilitation activities. For instance, in China, BeiDou, the country’s own GNSS constellation, helped track COVID-19 patients and affected places, thus containing the virus, apart from analyzing the pattern of the outbreak.
Further, with the help of reliable data and precise mapping and imagery, China could build thousands of new makeshift hospitals across the country within months. BeiDou was also used by decision-makers for transportation planning and providing essential services.
With the Novel Coronavirus cases rising every day, several countries ranging from US, China, UK, Israel, Singapore to South Korea are using contact tracing technology with the help of location tracking and analysis to contain the virus. Government and private organization in all the affected countries have built mobile and web applications that use people’s location data to disseminate information, assist with healthcare and other essential services, and issue warnings in case they come close to an infected area/person.
The COVID-19 outbreak has taught the world a number of lessons, one of which is to use technology innovation in its full potential to design robust healthcare systems. While the Novel Coronavirus, like many other viruses, may fade away due to an effective vaccine or otherwise, it is certainly not going to be the last such pandemic striking the mankind.
As we collectively move out of this crisis, it is important for both government and private organizations, along with the decision-makers, to devise ways not only to control or manage a health crisis, but to take steps to prevent it in the future.