In just a matter of weeks, the new coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world. The UK has gone into a state of near-lockdown, and a colossal packaged of emergency financial measures have been unveiled to help prop up the economy during this time of unprecedented upheaval.
Solving this problem will require radical thinking and radical solutions. And it’ll be solved, for the most part, in increments. The most important measures, like hand-washing and social distancing, are inexpensive and can be deployed now. The game changers, like reliable and widespread testing, a wartime mobilisation of manufacturers to create ventilators, and the eventual vaccine, are yet to come.
Any measure that can reduce your risk of passing the disease to another person will save lives. And many of these measures will come from the world of technology.
Predicting localised outbreaks will help health authorities to anticipate demand and allocate resources. Predictive computer modelling allows for this, and the more sophisticated and rigorously-tested the model, the more reliable it will be. It should be said, however, that a model is just a model, and shouldn’t be taken as a cast-iron guarantee of what’s going to happen.
The symptoms of the virus, like temperature and coughing, are difficult to track using current technology like the FitBit. As such, real-time monitoring of the disease may be difficult. Another challenge stems from the fact that sufferers may become contagious long before they show symptoms – if they show symptoms at all.
The private sector is providing testing kits at exorbitant cost, but the public-sector ones are being prioritised for those at highest risk – namely NHS frontline staff. If a testing kit could be combined with a tamper-proof way of advertising a positive result via the internet, it might become possible to effectively track where the cases are arising. This would help to update the model on an hourly basis, and buy the time necessary to respond to and mitigate the consequences of those outbreaks.
While it might not seem obvious, organisation and efficiency is going to be crucial when it comes to moving patients through hospital wards as rapidly as possible. Barring a miracle, your local intensive care unit is going to come under incredible demand over the coming months – and the faster patients can be assessed and moved from one ward to another, the less the strain on capacity will be. Hospital bed management software could help to relieve much of the administrative workload on frontline staff, and allow them to focus on delivering care.
Social media is a powerful tool for spreading information. At the same time, it’s also a powerful tool for spreading misinformation. If the coming challenge is to be met, we shall all have to be a great deal more sceptical about what we read online, and place a great deal more stock in trusted sources of news.
Where social media might make a positive contribution is in a mental health perspective. A prolonged period of isolation can be difficult for many to cope with. Video chat, pictures, and even virtual-reality might help to make these challenges more manageable.