Home » ‘Information Technology’ A tool for the containment of Covid-19

‘Information Technology’ A tool for the containment of Covid-19

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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Battling a pandemic as serious as COVID-19 requires drastic responses and political leaders and public health officials have turned to some of the most radical strategies available. What began with a lockdown of one city in China quickly expanded to the quarantine of entire province and now entire countries including Italy. While social isolation and curfews are among the most effective ways to break the chain of viral transmission. Some health experts say it’s possible these draconian measures didn’t have to become a global phenomenon. If health officials could have taken action earlier and contained and outbreak in Wuhan, where the first case were reported, the Global clampdown could have been at a much more local’s level. The key to early response lies in looking beyond centuries old strategies and incorporating methods that are familiar to nearly every industry from banking to retail to manufactures but that are still slow to be adopted in public health. Smartphone apps, data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) all make finding and treating with an infectious disease far more efficient than ever before.
       The connectivity we have today gives us ammunition to fight this pandemic in ways we never previously thought possible. And yet to date the Global public-health response to COVID-19 has only scratched the surface of what these new containment tools offer. Building on them will be critical for ensuring that the next outbreak never gets the chance to explode from epidemic to Global pandemic. Consider how doctors currently detect new cases of COVID-19. Many people who developed the hallmark symptoms of the disease –fever-cough and shortness of breath-physically visit a primary-care doctor, a health care provider at an urgent –care centre or an emergency room. But that’s the last thing people potentially infected with a highly contagious disease should do. Instead, health officials are urging them to connect remotely via an app to a doctor who can triage their symptoms while they are still at home. The reality is that clinical brick-and-mortar medicine is rife with the possibility of virus exposure. The system we have in place is one in which everyone who is at risk is potentially transmitting infection. That is “petrifying”. Instead, people could call a telemedicine centre and describe their symptoms to a doctor who can then determine whether they need COVID-19 testing –without exposing anyone else.
        In Singapore, more than a million people have used a popular tele-health app called –MaNaDr, founded by family physician Dr Siaw Tung Yeng for virtual visits; 20% of the physician in the island country offer some level of service via the app. In an effort to control escalating cases of Coronavirus there, people with symptoms are getting pre-screened by physicians on MaNaDr and advised to stay home if they don’t need intensive care. Patients then check in with their tele-health doctor every evening and report if their fever persist, if they have shortness of breath or if they are feeling worse. If they are getting sicker, the doctor orders an ambulance to take those people to the hospital. Dr Siaw says the virtual monitoring makes people more comfortable about staying at home, where many cases can be treated instead of flooding hospitals and doctor’s offices, straining limited resources and potentially making other sick. This allows us to care across distance, monitor patients across distance and access their progression across distance. There is no better time for remote care monitoring of our patients than now. Other at home devices and services currently being used in the U.S allows patients to measure dozens of health metrics like temperature, blood pressure and blood sugar several times a  day and the results are automatically stored on the Cloud from which doctors gets alerts if the reading are abnormal. Telemedicine also served as a powerful communication tools for keeping hundreds of thousands of people in a specific region up to date with the latest advice about the risk in their community and how best to protect themselves. That can go a long way towards reassuring people and preventing panic and runs on health centres and hospitals. Beyond individual -level care, the data gathered by telemedicine services can be mined to predict the broader ebb and flow of an epidemic’s trajectory in a population.
        The COVID-19 pandemic may be the trial by fire that telemedicine finally needs to prove its worth. Despite the fact that apps and technology for virtual health visit have existed for several decades uptake in the country has been slow. Other tech innovations that haven’t fully made their way to the public health sector could also play a critical role in controlling this pandemic –and future outbreaks. Taking a closer look at health related data, such as electronic health records or sales of over-the counter medications can provide valuable clues about how an infectious disease like COVID-19 is moving through a population. Retail drugstores track inventory and sales of non-prescription fever reducer for example and any trends in those data might serve as an early albeit crude, harbinger of growing spread of disease in a community. And given the proliferation of health –tracking apps on smartphone, analysing data trends like a rise in average body temperature in a given geographical area could provide clues to emerging clusters of cases. Geo-tracking on phones while controversial because of privacy issues, can also streamline the tedious task of contact tracing, in which scientists  try to manually trace infected patients ,whereabouts to find as many people with whom they direct contact and who could have been infected. In countries with less robust health care infrastructure smartphones can be critical for gathering information about emerging infections on ground. These type of real time data can rapidly provide a snapshot of where and how fast the disease might be spreading, to distribute health care works and equipment where they’re needed most. It’s all about catching these cases as early as possible to minimize the peak of a pandemic so the health system doesn’t get overwhelmed. But it’s not just about seeing the trends. Flattering the surge of an infectious disease also require action and that’s where the advice gets muddier –but also where Big -Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can provide clarity. By deeply analysing the care that every COVID-19 patient receives, for example AI can tease out the best treatment strategies.
        In case of COVID-19, that might include social distancing and avoiding large public gatherings. To help public health department better, prepare communities for this and future outbreaks, privacy issues however nest in every single byte of data about a person’s health. So the power of AI methods in controlling outbreaks depends on how effectively data can be anonymised. Only when people are assured of privacy can algorithm help to navigate the next big hurdle. Predicting surges in cases that strain health care personnel and availability of supplies like ventilators, masks and gowns. If COVID-19 teaches public –health officials’ one thing, it’s that there are now tools available to help contain an infectious disease before radical measures like quarantines and curfews are needed. What we were doing 10 years ago and what we are doing now is vastly different. There is tremendous opportunity here and hopefully by (the next pandemic) the use of technology and data analysis is going to be light-years ahead of where it is today.

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