COVID-19 solutions and technologies that are transforming healthcare systems

Simone Edelmann, PhD

Editor at HealthcareTransformers.com

COVID-19 solutions and technologies that are transforming healthcare systems

26 March 2020

Quick Takes

  • COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and healthcare systems all over the world are looking to emerging technologies to help deal with the pandemic

  • Telemedicine, telehealth and the use of robotic solutions are being deployed at unprecedented speed in efforts to save already stretched resources and limit human-to-human contact

  • The achievements and lessons learned during COVID-19 may potentially catalyze positive changes to healthcare systems by highlighting the importance of data and best practice sharing, the value of adequate training and protecting our healthcare workers – both physically and mentally, and that change is possible

Coronovirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has taken the world by storm. In a fight to “flatten the curve” and help alleviate pressures, healthcare systems all over the world are looking for solutions using emerging technologies to deal with the pandemic.

These rapidly expanding technologies are being put to the test under these extraordinary circumstances. Although it is impossible to perfect their integration during such uncertain times, the opportunities and advantages they bring have shone through.

Rapid expansion of telemedicine and telehealth

Telemedicine and telehealth are rapidly becoming a necessary defense against COVID-19. They are proving to be indispensable tools to:  

  • Protect our healthcare workers from being exposed to the virus while on duty and limit transmission in healthcare settings
  • Protect patients from unnecessary exposure to the virus in their journey to and from and while at their care facility
  • Extend care coverage to mobile-restricted and geographically isolated patients 
  • Allow for continuous consultation, monitoring and care to patients and to limit hospitalization when possible to keep beds free for critically ill patients
  • Effective triage of patients for likelihood of having COVID-19

Taken together, these help to decrease the transmission rate of COVID-19 and save precious resources – most important being the physicians, nurses, and medical staff who are at the front-lines battling the virus. 

Call to bring healthcare home

The increased use of telemedicine and telehealth solutions at a time when infected persons (and in some cases, even non-infected persons) are encouraged to stay at home and self-quarantine have highlighted the growing need to extend healthcare into the home. This is especially true for our growing elderly population with underlying chronic health conditions, which puts them at increased risk of serious health complications.  

There is now a need for at-home digital diagnostic solutions that allow patients to stay at home, but also enable patients to send results remotely for evaluation. Exemplifying this is the recent unveiling of at-home testing kits for COVID-19 that plan to make use of telemedicine services in order for patients to share results with, and receive consultation of next steps from, doctors and nurse practitioners.1  

However, as highlighted in our interview with startup founder, Andrew Botham, the need to bring healthcare home does not only apply in times of crises. These digital health solutions can help to relieve cost and resource pressures on healthcare systems – already present before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – while at the same time maintaining the highest level of quality care to the patient.

Perhaps the surge in the use of telemedicine and telehealth that will likely remain after the COVID-19 pandemic, will promote the development and advancement of these at-home digital health solutions – an area of vast growth potential. 

Fast-tracking robotic solutions testing

Fast-tracking robotic solutions testing

Although not as talked about as telehealth and telemedicine, robotic solutions are playing a large role against COVID-19. Robots and drones are being put to the test as the world grapples to find effective and safe strategies to limit the spread of infection while providing services, resources, and care to those quarantined or practicing social distancing. 

Supporting the efforts of telemedicine, robots have been used to limit contact between healthcare workers and patients. They can provide video conferencing services and carry out certain tasks such as monitoring the body temperatures or heart rate of visitors and patients, as well as deliver food, drinks and entertainment.2-5 Importantly, they can overtake important yet menial tasks, allowing healthcare workers to focus on patient care. 

A new and powerful use of robots during COVID-19 has been as surface sterilizers to disinfect hospital rooms. Introduced in 2018 by UVD Robots, robots that emit concentrated ultraviolet C (UV-C) light to destroy virtually all airborne viruses and bacteria on the surfaces of a room are now being used extensively in China.6,7

While the UVD robot has not been specifically tested against the coronavirus COVID-19, UV-C light is known to kill similar viruses like Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).8 The demand of these robots has rocketed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic according to chief executive of UVD Robots, Per Juul Nielsen.8 

Drones are also being deployed to help alleviate resource pressures and reduce human-to-human contact. With more countries enforcing stricter quarantine measures and experiencing personnel shortages, key medical supplies are being delivered with drones to affected areas. They are also proving to increase the speed of transport tremendously compared to road transportation. Police in numerous countries have also been using drones to communicate to mass audiences and enforce emergency health policies, such as social distancing measures.9,10 

Collective learnings that will potentially change the future of healthcare 

Collective learnings that will potentially change the future of healthcare

The rapid implementation of these technologies in the face of COVID-19 has already pointed out some important learnings. 

1. The power of the global community and transparent sharing of data

Starting from the initial reporting of the novel COVID-19 virus from Wuhan, China11 and the rapid sequencing of the isolated virus genome to its submission to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID),12 there has been a remarkable open access sharing of data. This immensely catalyzes our understanding of the origin, epidemiology and transmission routes of the new virus. Essentially, it has and will continue to facilitate the rapid development of detection and treatment methods.13

The way in which countries communicate and work together to take action to deal with the virus and stop it from spreading is of paramount importance. China’s immediate action and transparency around the virus and its efforts to control its spread through quarantine and travel restrictions for example, have been adopted by many other countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Canada and the US. 

This example shows how fast we can solve a problem with open sharing of information and best practices on a global level. Could this be a way forward in not only advancing detection, treatment and containment effort in the midst of a global pandemic, but also for global threats to health such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes?

2. The importance of healthcare workers and adequate staff training

Healthcare workers are the front line defense and we must do everything possible to ensure they are equipped with the best resources and knowledge to do their job as best they can. Reports show that healthcare workers all over the world are being hit hard and their infection rates are rising. 

In a summary statement released by the Shanghai International Forum for Infection Control and Prevention, the reasons for such high infection rates among healthcare workers during the emergency outbreak were the lack of understanding of the pathogen at the beginning, long-term exposure to infected patients, shortage of personal protective equipment and inadequate training, supervision and guidance for infectious disease physicians.14

Furthermore, a number of reports have highlighted that medical staff were not always adequately trained – for instance, in dealing with increased telehealth requests.15-17

It is much easier to identify inefficiencies in retrospect of challenging situations. However, leaders must take steps to address worst-case scenarios and proactively plan for times of crises to reduce the undesirable outcomes of an emerging threat.

Furthermore, given the daily challenges and risks healthcare workers face everyday (even when not facing a major global threat) all measures possible should be taken to ensure their physical and mental well-being.  

3. Change is possible 

We have, as a collective society, so willingly embraced change in order to contain this pandemic and avoid the full potential of its devastation. Because of this, we have potentially saved countless lives and reduced the number of serious complications that may have also had lasting, long-term negative health effects. 

The healthcare system is often criticized for its resistance to change and uptake of new technologies compared to other industries. From healthcare’s global fight against COVID-19 – that has witnessed the unprecedented deployment and development of innovative technologies and solutions at incredible speed – we need to learn that we can change the healthcare system to fit today’s needs. 

We need to continue to be bold, embrace trial and error, and above all, work together for the betterment of patient care worldwide.

Simone Edelmann, PhD is an editor and contributor at HealthcareTransformers.com. After completing her PhD from the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, she found her passion in medical and scientific communications. She is dedicated to delivering high quality content on the topic of the future of healthcare to our readers.

References

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