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Digital Transformation Coronavirus Technology

How virtual care and wearables can help the fight against the coronavirus

By Thomas Hobbs, Journalist

March 23, 2020 | 4 min read

With large swathes of the Western world currently in lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, governments are scrambling to try to minimize the damage caused by the virus. Yet proper utilization of technology such as virtual care and wearables could be the key to winning the fight, according to Arielle Trzcinski, a health care analyst at Forrester.

A man wears a wearable device to monitor his health

Image by Luke Chesser via Unsplash

Tzrcinski has been researching virtual care for the last two years and she says the current outbreak is a huge opportunity for technology to take some of the pressure off hospitals and even boost people's mental health. “Virtual care can play a huge role in helping with this pandemic and it’s something China has already used to really positive effect,” she told The Drum.

“It means doctors can reach out to patients at home so they don’t have to come into surgery and risk infecting others. By being able to regularly video call infected patients, doctors can also ensure that the infected in self-quarantine have some contact, which will boost their mental health and make them feel less lonely."

She also spoke about the potential of AI, adding: “Virtual care can be deployed in servicing potential diagnosis, too. You can use AI to analyze a lot of information from a patient so their doctor can know their background and symptoms before jumping on a video call with them. There needs to be good AI underpinning virtual care so it works fluidly.”

In the US, Tzrcinski says health care providers are also making the most out of wearable devices to keep track of their patients. If, say, a potentially infected patient in self-isolation shows an irregular heartbeat or a high fever then doctors, in theory, will be able to step in and help them out. “You can use data from wearables to understand if a person has a high fever or dangerous heart rate, and then step in accordingly,” she said. “It means we can monitor vulnerable patients in their homes and try to keep them safer rather than pointlessly waiting in a waiting room filled with sick patients.”

Tzrcinski can only see the adoption of wearables in the health care industry growing in the future, and believes one day they might even help to stop the spread of a pandemic altogether. “I definitely expect to see broader adoption of wearables. They have come such a long way on things like cardiac health, allowing us to look to see if a patient has an elevated heart rate or could be sick. We also see the data from wearables being used to dictate hot spots for flu,” she explained.

“In future, we will continue to see scientists look to tap into this data. It could mean doctors can spot a pandemic before it spreads and be able to warn someone as early as possible that things aren’t right with their vitals.”

Yet although this kind of technology sounds very helpful, Tzrcinski admits that its adoption still isn’t as widespread as it needs to be, with cost barriers still preventing video calls and wearables from becoming commonplace in our hospitals. She concluded: “It is a surprise that this tech isn’t used more broadly as it should be. But although it’s obviously successful in helping coronavirus, there are still barriers such as making it cost-efficient and driving awareness of virtual care so people really understand its benefits.

“But the fact President Trump recently referenced telehealth in his address shows it is entering into the conversation at the top level. If it is used properly, it could make a huge difference.”

This piece was published as part of The Drum's Digital Transformation Festival, ongoing through out March and April. Find out more details here.

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