Technological innovations could play a critical role in controlling the coronavirus pandemic; and even be used to pre-empt future outbreaks.  The ability to better scrutinize health-related data (notably: electronic patient / health / medical records), and do so more quickly, with a much wider data-set, can provide valuable clues about how an infectious disease is moving through a population. Johns Hopkins University’s “Global mHealth Initiative” is focused on developing new technological tools that will help ensure that the next outbreak never gets the chance to explode from localized epidemic to global pandemic.

Information culled via tele-medicine services can be collated and evaluated to predict trends–as with an epidemic’s trajectory in a population.  This is about scalable mental healthcare systems; which help to mobilize resources across vast geographies to address problems that affect everyone. The current pandemic will bring in a fundamental change in the way we practice medicine and in the way the health care system functions in the U.S.  Remote monitoring is all the more imperative during a pandemic, when social distancing is imperative.

Tele-medicine (mobile Health / mHealth / eHealth) is the wave of the future.  For HIT (health information technology) allows patients to easily measure dozens of health metrics several times a day.  The results are automatically stored in the cloud, an easily accessible reservoir of real-time information from which doctors receive alerts whenever readings are abnormal. Technology enables healthcare workers to analyze trends in biometric data in a certain geography to provide clues about possible concerns–as with emerging clusters of positive test results in a particular area.  Smartphones can also be tremendously useful for gathering information about emerging trends.  Finding infection patterns in culled data-sets can serve as an early indicator of growing spread within any given community–as is done with, say, ArcGIS’s “Experience Builder”, which provides real-time updates of cases / deaths of CoViD-19 for every zip-code.

There are also notable perks on the level of the individual.  Many medical visits do not need to be done in person.  And during a pandemic, this is an especially salient point; as brick-and-mortar clinics present the possibility of transmission.  Bright.md is one of many startups in the Pacific Northwest using AI-powered virtual healthcare software to help physicians treat patients more quickly and efficiently…without them actually having to physically be with the patients. Many of those who develop symptoms similar to those of CoViD-19, and so SUSPECT that they might be candidates for the disease, feel obliged to physically visit a primary-care doctor or some other healthcare provider.  But that’s the last thing that such people (i.e. those who are potentially infected with a highly contagious disease) should do.  Emergency rooms are only for those who’s need for care is indubitable and urgent; and even then care must be delivered with utmost caution.

In NON-urgent scenarios, technology for virtual health visits holds tremendous promise. Tele-medicine (e.g. apps on mobile devices) connects people to a doctor who can triage their symptoms while they’re still at home. Remote (a.k.a. “virtual”) monitoring allows medical professionals to care for and monitor patients across distance.  Moreover, it makes people more comfortable about staying at home, where many cases can be treated.  This is a much-needed option–as it is preferable to people flooding hospitals and doctors’ offices–straining limited resources and potentially making others sick.

Tele-medicine also serves as a powerful communication tool for keeping everyone in a specific region up-to-date with the latest information / insights about the risk in their communities; and how best to protect themselves.  That can serve to more accurately inform–and reassure–people, thereby preventing pointless runs on hospitals. The transition to this new technology is slow and steady.  Medicare only recently began reimbursing people for tele-medicine visits at rates comparable to in-person visits.  Meanwhile, states only recently began relaxing licensing regulations that prevent doctors in one state from remotely treating patients in another state.

AI technology married with TBI (translational bio-informatics) will eventually be used to carry out coordinated EDC (electronic data capture) around the globe…while handling CDEs (common data elements) across different platforms.  An intelligent system dealing with CRI (clinical research informatics) can furnish people with CDS (clinical decision support). In the end, this is about the maximization of efficiency, efficacy, affordability…AND accessibility.  These new technologies will make such an aspiration a reality.