Why Defensive Digital Health Will be Vital in Beating COVID-19 and Winter Flu

Experts had long predicted the arrival of a pandemic like COVID-19: back in 2017, scientists at the John Hopkins University published a scenario eerily similar to current events.

But the arrival of the coronavirus still came as a shock for many, with governments and health professionals alike unprepared for a crisis of such magnitude.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of preparedness so we can act in the face of crises like these, not just react.

It’s a lesson we’ll have to learn quickly. The second wave of COVID-19 is already affecting countries across the world, and it’s possible we’ll have to deal with the impacts of both coronavirus and flu at the same time this winter.

Digital tools proved valuable in combating the first wave of the pandemic—and tools like these will form an important line of defense as we continue to contend with the threats of COVID-19, the onset of flu, and other infectious diseases.

Adopting a strategy of defensive digital health could not only help us better combat the current pandemic but prepare for other health emergencies in the future.

What is Defensive Digital Health, and Why Does It Matter?

Defensive digital health means leveraging digital health tech to optimize health systems in preparation for adverse health scenarios, whatever and whenever they may be.

Of course, we can’t build ICUs in every town across the country to prepare for the ultimate worst-case scenario. What we can do, however, is make sure that if a problem does occur, the resources at our disposal are used as efficiently as possible.

Fundamentally, it’s about being prepared in advance so that the systems and processes are in place to identify, triage, and treat patients. Defensive digital health can ensure that we are properly equipped to fight diseases, such as COVID-19, more efficiently when they strike.

Why We Need to Act Now

Nobody can really predict how things will pan out this winter. But, as flu season approaches, it’s imperative to plan now, for two main reasons.

Firstly, both COVID-19 and influenza share similar symptoms, both are highly infectious, and both require access to the same care specialists and hospital resources. That means healthcare systems will likely see extra pressure on specialist clinicians and on finite hospital resources, such as beds, oxygen supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and ICU capacity.

Secondly, both viruses are also unpredictable, and outbreaks may strike in places that are well-resourced, or they may arrive in areas that are completely unprepared. This makes getting the right resources, to the right locations, with enough warning, almost impossible.

The prospect of both respiratory diseases peaking at the same time presents a double danger for healthcare systems across the globe. Failing to put appropriate measures in place now to mitigate the risks could be a costly mistake.

How Defensive Digital Health Tools Can Help

Digital tools have a range of potential applications and have already been helping healthcare providers battle coronavirus, with a multitude of specialist solutions designed specifically for the COVID-19 response. Having already proved their worth, these tools could be just as effective in the winter ahead.

1. Tracking and Tracing

Track and Trace tools are perhaps the most well-known digital health solutions at present. They use location and/or behavioral data to trace and alert individuals who may have been in close contact with someone infected with coronavirus, so they’re able to take measures to protect themselves and those around them.

Contact tracing is a well-established method for controlling the transmission of diseases and is a crucial first line of defense in the fight against COVID-19, helping to contain and prevent the virus from spreading.

2. Diagnosing and Triaging Patients

By enabling efficient remote care, digital health solutions not only protect patients from infection in a clinical setting, they keep patients and healthcare practitioners better informed, and more prepared to manage peaks in infection.

Services such as Babylon Health’s COVID-19 Care Assistant use virtual and video chat based information services to diagnose and triage patients. Not only does this reassure patients, it also keeps them away from transport and medical facilities where viruses can spread easily.

3. Determining Appropriate Treatment Paths

Solutions like our web-based clinical support tool specifically designed for COVID-19 can conduct ongoing patient assessments to help hospital staff make decisions on the most appropriate course of action.

The key to solutions like these is offering a way to measure patients’ status in order to help anticipate patient deterioration. This ability would allow hospitals to more accurately predict the likelihood of patients needing specific medical attention or space in ICU and allocate resources accordingly. Furthermore, the utilization of similar solutions across a regional or national level would also allow more efficient allocation of resources across an entire healthcare system.

We can’t predict the future, but we can take steps to mitigate risks.

A defensive digital health approach gives those on the medical front lines the ability to manage limited resources deftly and reduce the burden on health services; it allows them to trace, diagnose, triage, and treat patients more effectively, while minimizing the risk of further infections or deterioration.

Now is the time to act to protect our health services and keep as many people as healthy as possible.

  • John Maughan

    John Maughan is Head of Products at S3 Connected Health where he spends his days understanding customer and market needs and distilling them into compelling product offerings. Over his 20 years of experience he has delivered complex enterprise solutions to customers such as AT&T, Danone, JP Morgan, DHL, Vodafone, and BSkyB amongst others.

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