The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a massive shift to the adoption of digital health technologies such as telemedicine consultations and digital health apps for patients to track their COVID-19 symptoms and trace contacts.
As the pandemic subsides, we will enter a “new normal” of teleconsultations as the primary means of accessing the health service which is likely to have many positive impacts for patients including saving travel times and reducing risks of infections from other patients.
After many years of resistance, the pandemic has demonstrated to clinicians the value of technology and will likely continue to drive new developments and improvements. The raft of new start-ups will also push existing providers to improve their clinical usability and hone their offerings in order to stay competitive and not lose market share.
Health informaticians have also been involved in the rapid development of large-scale data collection to inform the pandemic response. For example, a study of 17 million linked EHR records in the UK has enabled scientists to see the range of correlated patient characteristics associated with COVID-19. Governments around the world are rapidly updating their population data collection systems as they respond to the press and public’s requirement for daily statistics.
As the pandemic moves to a new stage, focus will be on new technologies that enable ‘track and trace’ of COVID-19 infected individuals and their contacts. In the US and elsewhere Google and Apple have stepped up to deliver a contact tracing app using Bluetooth to generate alerts if you have been near to someone who is then diagnosed with COVID-19 (who also has the app installed). The UK’s NHSX has developed a similar app that is currently being piloted in the Isle-of-Wight.
It is clear that we are entering a new age of digital healthcare. Many developments that have been slowly progressing over many years have been rapidly adopted at scale and, as we exit the pandemic, our healthcare systems will be very different and much more dependent on digital tools. Hopefully these tools will be easy to use, secure and allow for stronger health systems to develop that can cope with future crises.