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19 August 2020 | Healthcare, Digital, Medical, Care, Health, Online, App, Doctor, Nurse, Pandemic, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Crisis

Covid-19, digital healthcare and technology

Digital healthcare is not a new development, but the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly accelerated its popularity. Almost overnight, the world underwent a huge transformation. Populations across the globe went from being constantly connected to isolated and socially distanced, and face-to-face appointments were a thing of the past. Digital healthcare and technology played a huge role, and huge advancements were made in the industry during the height of the pandemic when things were at their worst.

Digital Healthcare Appointments and Telemedicine

Social distancing took the world to new, previously unknown places - which meant digital healthcare and technology were used more than ever before. Although there was a pandemic taking place, patients still needed to be treated for existing and new health conditions. Traditional doctors and hospital appointments, once conducted face-to-face in a surgery setting, now had to take place online. Patients were encouraged to call their GP for a telephone appointment, and many people opted for video calling which allowed doctors to get a better idea of the problem. NHS data showed that during May, a huge 48% of appointments were carried out via telephone.

Mental healthcare also continued online, with access to diagnostic services and treatment plans such as CBT being carried out digitally. This was particularly important, as the global crisis affected the mental health of huge numbers of patients; isolation, loneliness and anxiety became more prevalent than ever.

Medical training was also taken online. Professionals returning to the industry, or those being sent to work in unfamiliar areas, were given free access to e-learning programme The Script. Divided into modules for different disciplines, it meant front-line workers were adequately prepared.

What might be on the cards for virtual medicine isn’t certain, but a report from AXA PPP Healthcare showed that it looks like the future will almost certainly be digital. Findings from the study showed that digital, rather than face-to-face, GP appointments could reduce wasted appointments, improve practice operations and be a more time and cost-effective option for patients.

Contact Tracing Apps

While here in the UK we don’t currently have any successful contact tracing technology, governments across the world rolled out programs to turn mobile phones into disease trackers.

Countries in Asia were the first to utilise contact tracing technology, with China setting the standard. Their apps were compulsory, and are largely attributed for the slowing of the viral spread. South Korea operated under similar conditions, with anyone in isolation being ordered to download their tracing app.

Over in Australia, measures were strongly encouraged but not compulsory. An app called COVIDsafe was rolled out during April, and was initially downloaded 6.1million times. However, it came under fire in June when data showed that it was thought to be less effective than initially imagined.

Going forward, it’s expected that here in the UK, a successful contact tracing app won’t be available until Winter.

3D Printing and Robotics

AI, robotics and 3D printing were three areas of technology which were vital in the fight against the pandemic. Huge PPE shortages globally meant that frontline workers were left completely vulnerable, with almost half of doctors in the UK shamefully forced to find their own equipment or rely on donations. Companies, students and individuals with 3D printers jumped into action; one of the first instances was in China, where a company began 3D printing safety goggles to combat shortages. Over in the Czech Republic, the Prusa face shield was developed and has been printed hundreds of thousands of times, while in Singapore, a 3D printing company designed and developed a training aid for respiratory swab collection.

The pandemic also caused an incredibly sharp rise in the use of robotics within healthcare. AI and automation have been on the horizon for a while across multiple industries, but the arrival of Covid-19 sped up the adoption. Specialised robots have been used across the globe to replace humans in various tasks; disinfecting rooms, scrubbing floors and delivering samples to laboratories have all been left to machines.

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