Digital tools can mitigate the impact of disease outbreaks

Digital tools Digital tools having proven their worth in the current pandemic, and they have a significant role to play in helping us better prepare for similar scenarios, says John Maughan, Head of Products at S3 Connected Health

With almost the entire world population still dealing with the widest-reaching medical emergency in living memory, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how significantly infectious disease can impact our health systems, and our wider ways of life, too.

A new approach to healthcare is needed in these unprecedented times. With digital tools having proven their worth in the current pandemic, they have a significant role to play in helping us better prepare for similar scenarios in the future.

Here’s how digital tools are key to mitigating the impact of disease outbreaks, both now and in the future.

MORE ON THE ENGINEERING RESPONSE TO COVID-19 HERE

Issues caused by disease outbreak

The impact of infectious diseases like COVID-19 are, understandably, felt most strongly in our health systems:

Firstly, they stretch limited resources. A sudden surge in severe illness causes significant pressure on specialist clinicians and on finite hospital resources, like beds, oxygen supplies, PPE, and ICU capacity.

Secondly, they are often unpredictable. Viruses may strike in places that are well-resourced, or they may arrive in areas that are completely unprepared. This makes getting the right resources, to the right locations, with enough warning, almost impossible.

But as we’ve seen with COVID-19, when infectious disease is endemic in a community, it also has a significant impact on the wider population, requiring us to be more aware of what we do and how we act.

That means we need tools to assist with treatment in a healthcare setting, but we also need tools that can keep track of disease transmission and manage symptoms outside of a clinical environment, too.

How digital tools can help

Digital tools can address both of these key areas. In fact a study released just last month in The Lancet shows digital solutions facilitate strategy and response in ways that are difficult to achieve manually.

Firstly, technology can monitor a patient’s vital signs from a distance and improve clinical oversight. Easier, flexible access to patients gives healthcare professionals the potential to better understand those under their care; it can also help prevent further disease transmission in a clinical setting. For example:

  • accuRx’s Fleming video consultation tool has allowed NHS healthcare providers to conduct routine appointments remotely to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
  • Similarly, SDG Group’s Docdot AI-assisted mobile app allows clinicians to remotely monitor a patient’s vital signs, to diagnose, monitor, and ultimately prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Secondly, with medical staff under immense pressure, digital health solutions can better optimise the allocation of resources, space, and professionals:

  • Our web-based clinical support tool for COVID-19, for example, uses patient vitals to predict the likelihood of patients needing specific medical attention or space in ICU. This helps clinicians to triage patients and make key treatment decisions, ensuring finite healthcare resources and specialists are used appropriately, and those most in need get access to the right services and care.
  • When deployed across the healthcare system, the tool also enables clinicians to monitor patient status and resource utilisation more broadly so that critical supplies, staff, and space can be allocated accordingly; optimising hospitals’ ability to tackle the pandemic.

On a broader scale, technology can also combine data to rapidly generate new insights into disease progression, and the effectiveness of treatment among different populations. Far from just helping us to deal with a current problem, these kinds of solutions offer real data to help educate and guide new approaches in the future.

Digital at the heart of healthcare

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that digital health should be the beating heart of our healthcare systems moving forward.

Any previous reluctance to integrate digital tools into care pathways – whether in hospital, or outside of clinical settings – will very likely dissipate as these tools continue to prove their effectiveness.

We must use all the tools at our disposal to prepare and protect our health services, support clinicians, and improve patient health. And that means digital health technologies need to be front and centre, not just in times of disease outbreak, but in the future, too.

John Maughan, Head of Products at S3 Connected Health