6 ways technology can help tackle future pandemics

By Ritesh Talapatra

COVID-19 brought a series of unique challenges that are well documented and timely, it may be relevant for us to look back and find out what we did well and the things that need to be improved before we get on with it can handle the following.
Realistically, technology may not be able to prevent a pandemic in the future, but it can help us be better prepared by anticipating outbreaks and preventing its spread. It can also help us gain crucial time for the healthcare system to prepare and respond. Technology has the power to reach everyone, masses or individuals, however distant or distant they may be, giving us the added advantage of being able to make a material difference quickly and effectively.

Here are 6 examples of how digital health solutions can make this possible:

  1. Increase patient reach and access
    COVID-19 gave the health industry a rapid and dramatic push into the digital and home health channels. A study by McKinsey showed that total telecare use is 38 times higher than in the pre-pandemic era. Telehealth technologies can help reinvent virtual and hybrid (virtual/personal) models of care, with many benefits. They can reduce pressure on hospital capacity, reduce virus transmission, care for more patients than is possible with personal care, and transfer the skills of infectious disease specialists to people living in remote locations. In the past year, consumers have also readily embraced these channels, and for some of these categories, they now prefer the digital channel over the physical one.
  2. Improve the quality of care
    From web and app-based symptom checkers and triage tools to automated self-planning to more efficient data sharing, digital health technologies can create a seamless experience and reduce consumer frustration. Digital health solutions can provide an informed and tech-enabled consumer with the ability to research their condition, search and compare providers, view different prices and select the clinician and site to visit, book appointments and be reminded to different things. This can help dramatically reduce the stress on an overburdened healthcare system and deliver connected experiences that enable the right care, in the right setting, at the right time, every time.
  3. Help predict and prepare for health emergencies
    The pandemic also confirmed what has long been a well-known fact that accurate and actionable data in healthcare facilities is the new currency of the health ecosystem. As healthcare organizations urgently seek real-time population health data to accurately predict the next wave of infections, it became more than clear that we need to break the silos of health information and have an open exchange with stakeholders across the ecosystem. By solving the interoperability of data between different systems, technology can aid in the seamless exchange of health information that can aid rapid prototyping, rapid discoveries and better response to public health emergencies. By using AI-based prediction models, internet-based surveillance technology and remote sensing technology, it is now possible to study the current burden of disease at a given point in time and then predict when and where the next infectious disease outbreak may occur. In this way, scarce health resources can be allocated and optimally used.
  4. Shifts focus from illness to wellness
    With the advent of wearable technologies and remote monitoring, we are now in an era where we can deeply engage patients with their own health and well-being. By regularly monitoring a person’s action, technology can guide their decisions so that their choices are still preserved and reinforced. to go for a walk, or whether it’s time to go to bed to get a full night’s sleep. Also, identification of high-risk patients based on the patterns observed using AI and a large number of individual health data, environmental variables and social determinants of health, may enable the proactive creation of a preventive mechanism, reducing the overall impact and costs are reduced. †
  5. Improve behavioral health
    Behavioral problems were drastically exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic due to traumatic stress, unemployment and social isolation. Digital health solutions can help increase access to behavioral health services by connecting behavioral health professionals to patients at a time and in a setting of their choice. Using advanced analytics, physicians can guide individuals toward care and the path to recovery, including identifying those at risk, connecting them to customized care plans, and monitoring their progress. By leveraging tools such as online knowledge repositories that host cognitive behavioral therapy content, technology can also help engage and support individuals in their own care plans.
  6. Reduce drug discovery time and total healthcare costs
    Last but not least, the process of developing new treatments and drugs is slow — and painfully expensive. It can take decades — and cost billions of dollars — to bring one new drug to market. During the COVID-19 crisis, we saw 36 vaccines entered clinical trials in record time. This was made possible by an unprecedented global will and cooperation and the use of new technological solutions. Humanity continues to face various complex diseases such as cancer and chronic diseases that pose a great risk to our communities in general. Recent advances in genomics have created new opportunities for drug manufacturers to reduce time and costs in the drug development process. Likewise, digital health solutions can be used to steer members toward more affordable generics, reducing overall health care costs.

    The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the great need for digital health solutions in healthcare. To keep pace with consumer needs, healthcare organizations must invest in upskilling or reskilling their staff on new age technologies. Only by empowering and inspiring our future technologists to build innovative digital health solutions can we help people live healthier lives and make the health system work better for everyone.

(The author is Managing Director – Optum Global Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd. The opinions expressed are the sole opinions of the author and not of the publisher FinancialExpress.com, the organization and Optum Global Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd. or any of its affiliates have no liability whatsoever.)

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