Technology, e-health and telehealth key to combatting COVID-19

Illustration of a mobile app to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, 13 May 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Idriss Bigou-Gilles).

Authors: Pradeep Kumar Ray and Soong-Chul Ro, University of Michigan –Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute, and Junhua Li, Sydney

A pandemic overwhelms health and medical capabilities, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and triggering severe social and economic disruptions. Technology plays a significant role in the management of pandemics. E-health and telehealth technologies in particular are receiving attention because of their potential to alleviate the pressure on healthcare services around the world.

E-health and telehealth apply information and communications technologies (ICT) to healthcare in providing a larger volume of services with reduced human contact. These applications are critical for responding to pandemics in three specific areas: surveillance, investigation and response, and medical capacity management.

Public health surveillance facilitates effective control or elimination of a pandemic. Rapid reporting, even when cases are not confirmed, can help health authorities collect data and control the disease before it becomes too difficult to contain.

Mobile technologies have been widely adopted during the COVID-19 outbreak for testing and contact tracing. In China, for example, local governments implemented a control strategy based on coloured QR codes — green for no infection, yellow for under testing and red for confirmed infection — for all individuals. This provided public health authorities with accurate information related to the spread of the virus while minimising panic.

E-health can assist investigations and responses to disease outbreaks in four key areas.

First, it facilitates the confirmation of an outbreak. Most countries now have electronic surveillance systems integrated with electronic health records (EHRs) that can efficiently identify an outbreak.

Second, e-health facilitates definition and revision of the case that serves as a guide to the clinician for reporting cases. A standard set of criteria is used for deciding whether a person should be classified as suffering from the disease under investigation. A case definition …continue reading