Health Care Technology to Battle COVID-19
IN A NUTSHELL:
- Use of 3D printing becoming more widespread
- Telemedicine and AI also on the rise
- Some technology may be used after end of pandemic
The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has confronted the entire world with a severe health crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades given its high rates of infection and mortality.
Most efforts to fight it have focused on containing it and preventing its spread. But some health care providers have been looking to new technologies for solutions, especially digital technology.
Technology as humanity’s primary weapon of war against the virus
Health care providers everywhere have struggled to deal with the strain on their resources that the pandemic has placed upon them. Some have put aside the usual barriers to innovation in order to try out new techniques to manage the crisis. As a result, new technologies that may have taken years to be tested and adapted by the medical community are now being deployed on the pandemic’s front lines and are demonstrating their efficacy.
These will surely continue to be utilized long after the pandemic has subsided.
Top technologies currently being used to combat COVID-19
1. Artificial Intelligence
There’s no question that artificial intelligence (AI) has been absolutely crucial in the fight against the virus. From using AI-based systems to screen potential patients to assessing infection risks, AI has proven its usefulness in the identification, diagnosing, and tracking of virus outbreaks. AI software such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), Machine Learning (ML), and location monitoring are being used to identify places where outbreaks are likely to occur. Additionally, some hospitals, such as Zhongnan Hospital in China, are making use of AI to screen lung CT scans, which assists doctors in deciding which cases need to be prioritized for further COVID-19 testing.
Likewise, BarabasiLab is using AI in tandem with network science to research new drugs that might be used to combat the virus. Less than ten days after the initiative was launched, researchers had a list of drugs eligible for testing in human cell lines. And some hospitals are using AI to help them manage their resources. Qvetus created an algorithm designed to help hospitals prioritize their resources for the most critical patients and then shared their findings.
Telemedicine is evolving as a sustainable solution for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. It is enabling patients to stay at home and communicate with physicians virtually, thus reducing the virus’ spread of viruses. Health services are being urged to adopt telemedicine technologies and self-assessment tools to provide remote care for patients with non-urgent matters. This has been especially crucial for patients living in long-term care facilities, where residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID infection.
A recent report indicated that, due to the imposition of social distancing measures, the average healthcare professional now sees patients virtually through telehealth 50 to 175 times more often than before the outbreak. And it seems to be working: 74% of telehealth users report being satisfied with the care they receive, and 64% of providers said they were satisfied with the telehealth systems. Given this high success rate, it is very possible that telehealth will continue to be used extensively even after the pandemic fades. This will lead both to greater democratization of the provider-patient relationship, as well as offering facilities a way to potentially reduce their costs while simultaneously improving the quality of care that they are offering.
The potential benefits of telehealth are not limited to doctor-patient relations, however. The systems also offer an opportunity for digital health technology companies to gather large quantities of data on patients and their treatments which can be analyzed and used to develop software that can assist patients between their appointments with their healthcare providers. The ability of software to monitor a patient’s condition (blood sugar levels, heart rate, weight, and so on) can also enable them to develop treatments tailored specifically to the patient’s unique needs, as well as allow the patient’s provider to monitor his or her progress more closely. This is more reliable than self-reporting.
3. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) is something associated in most people’s minds with the entertainment industry, but in fact it is being applied in some areas of medicine as well. A Harvard Business Review study revealed that surgeons who were trained using VR demonstrated a 230% improvement in performance over traditional training techniques.
VR has also been used to promote empathy in medical students by putting them in typical provider-patient situations before they actually deal with real-life patients. When it comes to COVID, the fact that many patients suffer from extended periods of isolation and from being ostracized as a result of their illness means that providers must be particularly sensitive to their needs; VR can prepare them for this.
But another worry has been that large numbers of front-line providers will eventually be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the stresses being placed on their capabilities, which have taxed many to their limits. VR is being looked at as a way to potentially offer therapy to providers in such cases through exposure therapy.
4. 3D Printing
The pandemic has placed enormous strain on medical supplies across the globe. In some places, 3D printing is being used to attempt to make up for deficiencies in areas such as personal protective equipment and respirators. This not only helps to save more lives but also lessens our dependence on foreign suppliers, such as China.
Carbon, Prusa Research, and Formlabs 3D Systems – all of them manufacturers of 3D printers – are already engaged in the mass production of face shields. A Carbon spokesperson claimed that the company is equipped to produce 50,000 shields per week. While 3D-printed face shields are not FDA approved at this time, they have not condemned their use, either. The organization said that even lesser quality gear offers better protection to providers and patients than none at all. In some cases, private citizens with 3D printers have answered the call and produced needed medical supplies in an effort to do their part to help their communities.
The future of 3D printing in health care is uncertain. If it is to be formally integrated, legislation will need to be introduced to provide oversight into how it is deployed and regulation as to its quality and use. But the pandemic has offered a promising start in this area.
While it’s still too early to assess the impact that digital technology has had on the global response to the pandemic, the preliminary evidence is extremely promising, and there will surely be a great deal of evaluation of its success once the crisis has passed. But it seems certain that at least some of the technologies now being employed for the first time in the industry will soon become a commonplace tool for health care providers everywhere.
5. Distributed Ledger Technology for Healthcare Administration
Health care administration has been widely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals and health care facilities large and small have had to modify their operations in order to handle the influx of patients. This includes how they handle healthcare credentialing, privileging, payor enrollment, as well as care team coordination and communication. An increasing number of hospitals and surgical centers are ditching spreadsheets and opting for a more efficient solution to handle provider credentialing, managing provider rosters, compliance, and everything else that falls under the health care administration umbrella. Administrators are realizing that there is no need for a step-by-step process to individually verify the more than 20 documents needed to complete the credentialing process and ensure licenses and education, liability claims, background checks, historical insurance information, and Office of Inspector General Exclusions. Intiva Health offers a single platform, Ready Doc™, that combines all of the necessary documents into one package and share the information with any medical facility via a user-friendly, optimally efficient solution that will provide the efficiency needed during a health care crisis such as a pandemic. MORE INFORMATION: Schedule a Ready Doc Demo