The world has never been as invested in the success of a healthcare initiative as it has been with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals have new knowledge and appreciation of the entire healthcare industry - from the extraordinary pace of vaccine development to the logistics associated with vaccinating billions of people across the globe and the sheer dedication of front line health care providers.
It’s encouraged millions of people to take part in COVID-19 symptom studies – over 4 million people globally are part of the COVID Symptom Study, for example, which is using data collected via its app to generate new scientific understandings of the effect of the pandemic on different people.
Digitally enabled collaboration has been both inspiring and vital in the world’s fight against the pandemic — but it’s also shone a light on how technology can transform healthcare.
The huge pressure on healthcare resources as a result of COVID-19 has highlighted the need for improvement – and the way digital technologies can help. The most obvious change has been the way primary care physicians now use telephone and video consultations with patients where possible. In addition to eliminating the need for patient travel, virtual consultations are efficient and effective, helping clinicians manage a challenging workload.
With mobile and desktop apps, patients can request appointments and prescriptions, as well as checking their symptoms and seeking advice. They can also get the healthcare services they need by using the channels that best suit them.
Patients have also been encouraged to manage their conditions by using hospital-approved apps to get initial diagnoses. For example, patients capturing and sharing information such as weight, capillary glucose or blood pressure data enables clinicians to proactively manage long-term conditions such as diabetes and reduce the chance of hospital admission. IoT-enabled wearable devices can provide continuous data capture. From there, nurses and doctors can then analyse and monitor patient health in real time and can intervene if they see any abnormalities.
IoT is also helping to improve resource management within hospitals. Using Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags to track a patient from admission through to discharge, hospitals get an immediate and accurate view of the current state of bed availability – a critical need during times of high demand. With this information, hospitals can centrally manage not only bed allocation but the entire process of cleaning and transporting patients to wards. This improves bed turnaround and minimises the interruptions to nurses.
IoT and cloud computing are also playing a vital role in safeguarding medication throughout the supply chain — innovative use of IoT by Nexleaf Analytics now protects the vaccine supply for one in ten babies born on earth”. To ensure life-saving vaccines arrive at their destination as quickly and safely as possible, Nexleaf’s vaccine monitoring wireless sensor ColdTrace remotely monitors vaccine fridges to provide near real-time information on storage temperature and other critical issues. This allows medical professionals to address any problems before the vaccines spoil and become ineffective.
5G will introduce the next wave of innovation within healthcare. From remote surgery to emergency response, the low latency and high-speed mobile network will both improve staff efficiency and transform patient care.
In Milan, the 5G connected ambulance is allowing paramedics to be continuously connected to the emergency management centre and with hospital doctors, providing a way to share patient details and symptoms before they even reach the hospital. Remote surgery has been trialled, albeit on a synthetic model. The surgeon was able to operate the laser and the robot’s micro-manipulator grippers remotely in real time, whilst being able to watch what was happening via a stereoscopic video.
The pandemic has refocused attention on the importance of healthcare. And it’s fast-tracked the adoption of many digital technologies that can improve patient outcomes — from vaccine supply chain efficiency through to patients being empowered to manage their health.
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