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In an era when contact tracing and social distancing have become the temporary norm and the healthcare system is under extreme pressure, technology is proving vital to the handling of COVID-19.
From telehealth facilitated using tablets, to iPads which allow hospital staff to monitor the condition of Coronavirus patients, this technology is being widely implemented to track, contain and treat the virus.
Here are just some of the ways technology is proving crucial in the fight against COVID-19.
Countries like Australia have led the charge when it comes to telehealth, employing tablets, iPads and even smartphones to allow general practitioners to meet with their patients remotely.
COVID-19 is one condition they’re catering to, but telehealth is also serving to make it safer for vulnerable patients to seek guidance from their doctor on other health conditions or is even used for ongoing services like physiotherapy, psychology and more.
The benefits include ensuring people have access to health services, maintaining safe social distancing and not putting vulnerable or elderly patients in jeopardy by having them physically attend a clinic.
As Wired recently reported, iPads and tablets are proving essential for patients with COVID-19 and the doctors and nurses who treat them.
Citing Massachusetts General Hospital a prime example, Wired explains tablets are deployed throughout the COVID-19 isolation wards.
“Nurses can use the devices to check on and communicate with patients without donning masks, gloves, and other precious protective gear, and risk exposing themselves to the virus,” they explain.
“In the three weeks since the system was deployed, Mass General says its use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, has fallen by half, helping the hospital cope with a nationwide shortage. It has also converted long-time opponents of telemedicine in hospitals into fierce advocates of the technology.”
“This digital surge that is preceding the actual COVID-19 patient surge is going to transform health care permanently in the United States,” Dr Lee Schwamm, who leads Mass General’s Center for TeleHealth told Wired.
Earlier this month, Apple and Google announced they had partnered in a bid to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Their proposal relies mainly on smart phones and harnesses short-range Bluetooth signals to gather a record of other phones which come into close proximity.
Ultimately it would allow authorities to better trace who people that are infected with COVID-19 come into contact with. But it’s not without controversy, with the concept eliciting concern over privacy.
In a statement Apple noted users could elect to opt in.
“Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing,” Apple explained.
“First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.
“Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.
“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyse.”
Elsewhere, further benefits beyond the isolation wards are also being realized. Tablets are now being called on as language interpreters, for consultations with dietitians and pharmacists and importantly for patients to have contact with their loved ones at a time when social contact is limited.
Wired notes Harris Health System in Houston recently deployed tablets and iPads as part of its end-of-life care.
The technology allows the families of patients in critical condition to be contacted and brought to the patient’s bedside virtually so they can be with them in their final moments.
“It’s not a perfect situation,” administrative director of patient experience David Riddle told Wired.
“But as a clinician, you might find some sense of relief or some of the burden lifted off of you knowing that the family was able to at least tell their loved one something, and be with them virtually.”
It remains to be seen whether Google and Apple’s contact tracing initiative will be implemented in light of the privacy concerns surrounding it. However, one thing is already clear, technology is playing a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19 and it’s likely to expedite the adoption of mobile hardware and software throughout the medical sector.