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Digitization of the health sector against COVID-19

Vicente Traver advocates the use of ICTs in Health

The digitization of the health sector, which is progressing day by day, is showing itself as a necessary path in crisis situations such as the one we are now experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Telecommunications allow us innumerable advances in the management and solution of health crises, as explained in this article by Vicente Traver, Director of the Health and Wellbeing Area (SABIEN) of the ITACA Institute of the UPV and head of the Working Group on Digital Health of the Official College of Telecommunication Engineers (COIT), published on its official website.

It was known that it could happen, despite previous crises like SARS or bird flu, despite the fact that 5 years ago Bill Gates anticipated a pandemic crisis like this and that, even years before, it was predicted that its most likely source would be China. There was nothing prepared because prevention is expensive, requires high investment and on an ongoing basis, and other priorities arise day by day.

Being aware that crises like this require the use of ICT in different areas, how can digitization of health help in situations of global pandemics? The answer is clear, digital health can help in different ways and in the different phases of a pandemic: early detection of the pandemic, primary and secondary prevention activities, help decision-making at the point of care, for care health, monitoring platforms after discharge, and as information and training channels for both citizens and professionals. Some of those opportunities are:

  • Early detection systems.
  • Coordination systems between countries and supranational organizations.
  • Identification of risk areas.
  • Location of infected patients to avoid new infections.
  • Use of telemedicine and telemonitoring to care for patients, both the uninfected and the infected who are under home observation, reducing the burden on hospitals and the risk of infection for both citizens and professionals sanitary.
  • Established care protocols that can change in real time based on available resources and patient status.
  • Use of artificial intelligence (AI) for early diagnosis and healthcare stratification.
  • Interoperability between healthcare levels (primary, specialized and hospitals) and between regions, sharing information and good practices.
  • Analysis of the effectiveness of non-pharmacological, prophylactic and therapeutic interventions, and virus modeling.
  • Location and monitoring of the patient after discharge.
  • Socio-economic impact of the disease. Use of primary care resources, general hospital resources, and critical care resources.
  • Generation of dashboards with information in real time.
  • Semi-automatic detection and elimination systems for fake news.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and massive analysis of integrated data aimed at the epidemiological control of the disease.

On the other hand, we can also invert the phrase and affirm that the coronavirus is helping the digital transformation, being a disruptive element for a full adoption of digital health, which will reach its full realization when we remove the digital surname from health and all the ICT component is inherent to health per se.

We end with a set of recommendations and reflections that may seem obvious:

  • It is very important to follow official sources and, above all, avoid spreading news from other sources without checking their veracity.
  • Telecommunications are very important for public health. Beyond continuing to evolve with the use of ICT in the healthcare field, we must focus on health promotion and disease prevention, recalling what David Ferguson said in this regard in 1991: “All the measures that today seem exaggerated, tomorrow they will be insufficient ”. And this challenge continues, as we are currently seeing.
  • Although citizens’ privacy must be ensured and continued without the need to go to the extremes of China and its extreme control, we must consider this exceptional situation of a health emergency and be somewhat more flexible in dealing with COVID-19 (report 0017/2020 regarding the treatment of data associated with the management of the COVID-19 of the Legal Office of the Spanish Agency for Data Protection).

Source: UPV’s Information Office