How Can Technologies Prepare the World for the Next Health Crisis?

The current health crisis took the world by surprise. Less than two years ago, it was hard to imagine that some virus can spread all over the globe, changing the lives of millions of people. The level of disaster preparedness had been shallow, and, naturally, a public health system collapsed. But, today, the lesson is learned, so it’s time to improve our ability to deal with similar situations.

Doctor with a sthetoscope

photo credit: Unsplash

Since technologies have played a fundamental role in the battle against COVID-19, healthcare software development companies should become crucial participants in most preparation initiatives.

Exoft has successfully completed a number of health-tech projects. This article will outline the key software products that could help healthcare stakeholders enable a more effective response to new infectious diseases.

Epidemiological surveillance systems

The proper interpretation of epidemiological data gives scientists information about the way an infection is transmitted. These findings can help governments take the timely measures required to prevent the uncontrolled spread of contagious diseases. For instance, multiple organizations had claimed that their AI health monitoring software had sent warnings about a new virus before the WHO published an official report about COVID-19. If quarantine restrictions had been imposed at that time, chances are we could have avoided the pandemic.

In general, epidemiological surveillance systems work in several different directions. But crowdsourced data processing is their most promising functionality. It enables the collection of content from news platforms, social media, aggregation services, and similar online resources. By applying machine learning algorithms and NLP technologies to all this heterogeneous data, ES systems can retrieve valuable insights from it and predict future outbreaks with impressively high accuracy.

Contact tracing applications

Most viruses that cause epidemics and pandemics are spread from person to person through breathing, coughing, and sneezing. It means that the possibility to trace all contacts of an infected patient can become a real gamechanger. Today, such tracing is carried out manually. Medical staff simply asks people tested positive for COVID-19 to recall where they’ve been and who they’ve met for the last two weeks. But a manual method is slow and ineffective. That’s why high hopes are set on mobile applications that can perform this function automatically.

In particular, contract tracing apps can gather user location data via GPS, cellular networks, or Bluetooth and alert everyone who has been geographically close to confirmed cases. Also, these solutions can be used at a scale to track population flows and identify potential transmission hotspots (e.g., airports, gyms).

China, South Korea, and several other countries have used phone tracking during the coronavirus pandemic to enforce other quarantine measures. But the US and Europe hesitate to do the same due to some serious privacy concerns. So, despite the fact some apps for digital contact tracing already exist, there is still a huge room for improvement, especially in the security and data protection areas.

Telehealth solutions

Lockdowns, self-isolation, and a high risk of catching COVID-19 at hospitals have considerably reduced the accessibility of clinical services. Consequently, many people were left alone with their deteriorating health conditions and didn’t receive appropriate medical care when they needed it. To prevent a similar situation in the future, healthcare professionals need to have tools that would allow them to treat patients at a distance. The wide telehealth adoption is what can make it a reality.

The primary function of telemedicine software is to enable the remote provision of medical services. When using it, doctors and patients can communicate and exchange health-related information with the help of telecommunication technologies. But the real telehealth potential is not limited to simple virtual consultations. It can also cover remote patient monitoring, tools that let people do simple self-tests at home, and many more. In the long run, continued improvements in telemedicine can take the entire healthcare industry to a completely new level.

CDC scientist working with samples using PCR machine

Disease detection and diagnostic software

When a new virus appears on the horizon, the symptoms it causes are not always evident from the very beginning. For example, the first COVID-19 cases were detected in December 2019. But it took scientists more than three months to find out that the loss of smell and/or taste is an early sign of a coronavirus disease. Naturally, the lack of information promotes the fast spread of a virus and complicates its detection and treatment. AI-based tools can reduce this unclarity, making the management of contagious diseases much more effective.

In particular, AI-enabled solutions can identify even insignificant symptoms caused by a virus that doctors have missed for some reason. It will eventually lead to a lower number of undetected cases and more effective containment of the virus spread. Besides, AI software can speed up the diagnosis. For instance, an AI tool created by Princeton researchers applies machine learning algorithms to chest X-ray images to identify minor patterns of COVID-19 pneumonia. With this tool, patients don’t have to undergo an expensive and health-risk CT procedure to get a diagnosis.

Wrapping-up

Technologies can significantly strengthen the public-health response to unexpected health challenges. With epidemiological surveillance systems, scientists can detect the spread of new viruses early on. Secure contact tracing apps can make our social life safe even when viral infections are circulating within our community. Telemedicine software ensures that all patients will get quality medical care during a health crisis. Meanwhile, AI-based diagnostic solutions can assist doctors in identifying and treating a new disease. So, our preparedness for coronavirus-like situations greatly depends on how much we’ll invest in healthcare software development.

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