“With high quality low-latency video facilities, doctors have a clear view of the patient without being put in harm’s way.”
Racing Against Time: How Innovation and Technology Can Counter a Virus Outbreak
Reading Time: 4:43 minutes
By Thiam Hwa Lim — Healthcare Director, Industry Business Architect (Healthcare), SAP SEA
Spreading at an alarming rate
The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) originating in Wuhan, China now spans 23 countries across Asia, the Middle East, North America and Europe. Alarming health officials across the world, nearly 9,700 cases have been confirmed in China (including 213 deaths) as of 31 January 2020. And over 130 cases have been reported outside China.
While this coronavirus epidemic shares similarities with the SARS pandemic that occurred in 2003, what’s vastly different is the advanced, more accessible, and more affordable technologies available today.
Technological innovations: A boon and a bane
This has its boons and its banes.
One of the more discouraging aspects is the misinformation incubating on social media – from accusations of information suppression to rumors of vaccines. Unlike SARS then, the current crisis is developing in an environment where people are much more connected via their smartphones and social media. In this regard, distortions of the truth can be dangerous. Fear and panic can polarize societies, paralyze economies, and cause psychological and socio-economic damage even before the coronavirus results in physical damage.
On the other hand, we are equipped a lot more tools and technological innovations that may help contain the outbreak. And even inspire people to stand together and unite in the face of adversity.
Harnessing technology for positive impact
Indeed, almost every aspect of life and every tool we are given have dual aspects to it. We can leverage instruments for good. Or we can do the opposite. This is no different.
Contactless Smart Cards: Movement of People.
Across countries, the public is concerned about whether they have been exposed to suspect or infected persons so that they can take the required steps to ensure their health and safety.
Many economies now use contactless smart cards for travel. This include transit tickets (e.g. EZ-Link cards in Singapore), bank cards and passports. By mining the data in these contactless smart cards, authorities could track the movement of passengers who have traveled in the same cabin, train or car as a suspect or infected person. This will allow them to trigger necessary alerts for those exposed to the virus for self-quarantine or other recommended procedures. And lend another aspect to contact tracing and enhance transparency to alleviate fear.
At present, unlike passports and bank cards, transit tickets are largely anonymous. Authorities and tech partners can set up scanning stations for transit ticket owners to check their past records for possibilities of exposure.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): Predictions and Warnings.
In an unfolding situation where the public is particularly concerned about how the coronavirus is spreading, AI can be used to predict the virus’ likely path and warnings based on those predictions can be issued.
In fact, Toronto-based health monitoring AI platform, Bluedot, beat both the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in terms of speed in the issuance of warnings about the Wuhan virus’ spread.
By applying big data analytics and machine learning techniques through global airline ticketing data (that can help predict where and when infected residents are headed next), news reports in over 65 languages, and reports of animal disease outbreaks, Bluedot’s algorithm can identify a trend. Once the machine-automated datamining is over, humans take over. Epidemiologists analyze the conclusions to check that it makes sense from a scientific perspective. And then a report is sent to government, business, and public health clients.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS): More Effective Decision-Making, Greater Transparency.
The number of coronavirus cases is changing quickly. A clickable, real-time tracking map providing location intelligence can show emergency response personnel how quickly – for them to make effective decisions on what needs to be done.
By pinpointing regions where patients have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, health officials will also be more informed in their research. At the same time, the dashboard provides the public with an understanding of the outbreak situation. This transparency will put the epidemic into perspective. And relieve fears that the authorities are suppressing information.
Telemedicine: Providing Healthcare with Reduced Risk.
Chinese network equipment maker ZTE and network operator China Telecom are working together to facilitate remote diagnosis of the coronavirus. With high quality low-latency video facilities, doctors have a clear view of the patient without being put in harm’s way. And patients in rural locations get access to the treatment and diagnosis that they need.
The high bandwidth of 5G is also allowing multiple patients to seek help at the same time. For example, the network ZTE is building for the Lei Shen Shan Hospital in Wuhan can allow around 25,000 people to communicate with each other at the same time. Virtual consultations are also giving the authorities better control of the virus to reduce fatalities caused by the disease.
Point-of-use (POU) Sensors: Limit the Development of New Animal-Transmitted Diseases.
As the coronavirus epidemic unfolds, it is important to ensure other cases of animal-transmitted diseases don’t surface. In this regard, animal tracking sensors can help monitor for signs of illness in the animals for sale. If indicators are triggered, the necessary procedures such as culling can be carried prior to exposure to consumers. POU sensors can also be used to look for the presence of viral DNA in or on food products or food preparation environments.
Understand our roles, contribute in our capacities
These are just a few examples of how technology can be applied in a positive manner to contain the outbreak. There are a lot more use cases.
As the situation unfolds, what’s important is for all stakeholders involved to understand their roles, how they can contribute, and collaborate to effect positive change. If you’re interested in discussing how we can work together to counter the epidemic, do reach out and drop me a message.