By Rahul Varshneya, Co-founder and President of Arkenea
With cases of COVID-19 now being reported from every corner of the globe – right from the most progressive urban cities to the most remotest of regions on the planet – hospitals are now turning to state-of-the-art technologies to help decrease their workload, whether by enabling doctors to keep track of quarantined patients remotely or helping speed up diagnostics.
Healthcare technologies are increasingly assisting hospitals in the fight to curb the transmission of COVID-19. Tools that already allow physicians to streamline and accelerate care delivery in a range of settings are helping some doctors more quickly diagnose (or rule out) coronavirus cases, provide virtual care and prevent the virus’ spread among populations.
In this piece, we will be looking at four technological innovations that are helping hospitals streamline operations and ameliorate care delivery.
Given the ease of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, employing social distancing measures have become mandatory. Telemedicine is one of the most effective options when trying to avoid close contact with others and curb the spread of any disease. This is the exact reason why its adoption has seen a boom during the pandemic.
Patients can consult physicians from the comfort of their own homes regarding their symptoms or be monitored for other chronic conditions. This decreases unnecessary hospital visits, allowing hospitals to prioritize urgent cases requiring prompt attention. Even in the most remote regions of the U.S. where rural communities usually have to travel for hours just to reach a nearby medical facility, telehealth can lead to better health outcomes.
Amwell, a telemedicine company, offers a telemedicine app with usage that has increased by close to 158% since January this year. Appointments through PlushCare, a telemedicine platform, have gone up by 70%. In comparison, only one in 10 patients in the U.S. used telemedicine services before the pandemic came into being.
Doctor on Demand and HeyDoctor, both virtual healthcare companies, have added free coronavirus risk assessments to their respective telemedicine services. Furthermore, Everlywell, which offers at-home laboratory testing, and PlushCare soon plan to release at-home COVID-19 testing kits. The pandemic gave telemedicine a much-needed boost and its adoption is only set to gain traction, even after the outbreak subsides.
Both hospitals and individual practices can look to developing a telemedicine platform for increasing access to care and ameliorating outcomes. It is an excellent way to gain a decent return on investment (ROI) while functioning with minimum resources.
2) Connected Devices/IoMT
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) furnishes a chance for healthcare professionals to retrieve personalized and remotely accurate data about their patients, improve the accuracy and speed of both diagnosis as well as treatments, and track their health status in real time.
In an article published on April 1, 2020, the World Economic Forum states: “Our digital infrastructure needs strengthening to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and future public health crises. … It is now the moment for countries to fast-track the construction of new digital infrastructure, such as IoT along with AI. … A new age digital era has emerged.”
With the help of tools such as sensors and tracking devices, telemedicine, remote patient monitoring (RPM), and connected assistance, individuals are empowered to receive a diagnosis online, record their behavior, and manage their own health with more efficiency, without having to leave their home.
Approximately 90% of healthcare businesses have already adopted IoMT, and the segment is recording one of the highest growth and IoT investments in 2020 due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Numerous applications, such as heat sensors, inpatient monitoring, medication management, connected health, connected imaging, connected ambulances, along with many others, are gathering momentum.
3) Artificial Intelligence
Today, numerous experts believe that the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) with medicine will fuel the true transformation in healthcare. With the Coronavirus pandemic, the significance of this technology has been further highlighted.
The Zhongnan Hospital in China is using an A.I.-based system to screen lung CT scans and help doctors prioritize potential COVID-19 cases for further testing.
Barabasi Lab, an organization that researches how networks emerge, what they look like, and how they evolve, and how they impact understanding of complex systems, is combining machine learning with network science to find new drug candidates against the virus. In less than 15 days since this endeavour, the team had a list of drugs for testing in human cell lines in an experimental lab.
Net Health uses AI in its wound care EHR to predict healing rates for chronic and non-healing wounds, as well as risk for amputation. TOthers are also finding uses for AI in better management of hospital resources during the pandemic. One such example is that of Qvetus, which developed an AI algorithm only recently. Researchers shared their findings on an artificial intelligence framework to provide assistance in sequencing resources for critical cases.
Industry experts have already started seeing AI as an aide to augment the skills of healthcare professionals.
4) Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) has many applications in the field of medicine, from training and education to easing medical symptoms. According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, surgeons trained via VR exhibited a 230% improvement in overall surgical performance as opposed to those trained using traditional approaches.
VR technology can also be leveraged to develop empathy among medical students by putting them in disparate simulations to better understand the patient experience. This can help with issues that COVID-19 patients are facing like isolation or stigma.
One of the most unfortunate consequences of COVID-19 that we will witness after it vanishes is the unprecedented psychological toll that working in the frontlines will take on the medical staff. Witnessing scores of patients succumb to the illness while working in extreme conditions may lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the frontliners.
Thankfully, medical virtual reality is already a therapeutic option in these cases, with positive results. Through exposure therapy in virtual worlds, VR technology can help ease those PTSD symptoms.
These are some of the many digital health technologies being used in the fight against COVID-19. The pandemic has changed organizations and people in many ways and has provided a fresh start for digital infrastructure development. New business models are being created to help organizations, health professionals and citizens understand the complexity of a disease and ensure preventive measures.
Technological innovations are set to revolutionize the future of healthcare – one where machines and humans work together to bring about changes that have never been seen or experienced before.
About Rahul Varshneya
Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder and president of Arkenea, a custom healthcare software development company. Rahul has been featured as a technology thought leader across Bloomberg TV, Forbes, HuffPost, Inc, among others.