The coronavirus pandemic shook the healthcare industry like no other event in the past 50 years. Healthcare workers were at the frontlines fighting like soldiers in wartime to protect patients. The sudden influx of patients with covid-19 and like symptoms, the unprepared hospital systems, non-availability of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), lack of testing facilities, non-compliance to wear mask and to follow other general guidelines — all this with many more reasons led to a widespread, mind boggling rise of covid-19 cases.
Few of the earliest challenges faced by hospital systems:
- Lack of PPE
- Slow and siloed testing process
- Influx of in-patient visits with covid-19 symptoms
- Influx of patient support/call center calls with questions
- Lack of awareness of general information on symptoms, guidelines, testing locations
Being in the health-tech industry, I closely watched the horrific events unfold every single day. On the other hand, I also observed and participated in solving some of the challenges through technology. This was possibly the first time when all healthcare players agreed to embrace technology, cloud computing and AI as a way to find quick and scalable solutions.
Let’s take a couple of challenges from the above list and walk through the process of leveraging technology to resolve it.
Lack of awareness and knowledge about coronavirus:
At the beginning of the pandemic in February-March, it was necessary to share general information and burst common myths. Governments, Public Health offices, Medical institutes, Hospitals, Clinics, and Educational institutions applied various methods to impart knowledge to their end users. Some of the most impactful methods leveraging technology were:
- Hosting a Coronavirus Advisory and FAQ page on their patient-facing website
- Creating a Coronavirus Self-Assessment Tool hosted on their website
- Creating bots using NLP to answer common enquiries about the pandemic
These techniques definitely helped in imparting truthful, accurate and research-based information to every citizen who had access to a smartphone. Sharing general information of symptoms, myths, guidelines, testing center locations etc. also served another important purpose. It drastically reduced the number of support center calls and in-patient visits thereby heavily reducing the load on the already overburdened healthcare system.
Slow and siloed testing process:
Since the virus was spreading like wildfire, there was a need to reduce time taken to identify a covid-positive patient and to prevent spreading from this patient as a source. This evolved to digitizing the testing process and contact tracing. Each use case is a technologically complex use case that requires multiple data sources to be aggregated and analyzed to reduce testing time and trace every patient effectively.
In many countries, the federal government created a nation-wide contact tracing solution to monitor and track each citizen’s movements to prevent further spread of the virus. Keeping aside the question of individual privacy in this exceptional case, the outcome achieved was tremendously positive where successful execution took place. In other countries, many local public health agencies, healthcare organizations and educational institutions, implemented their own solutions for testing centers and contact tracing with varying levels of success.
Overall, technology has played a key enabling factor in combating the pandemic. Not only did the healthcare industry became more welcoming of technological improvements, it also realized the potential of software systems, cloud computing, ML and AI in solving healthcare challenges immediately.
In the next blog, we’ll explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the healthcare industry and what trends in health-tech you should be on the lookout for.