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Challenges ahead for digital health implementation

Mounir Jamil

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digital health

Earlier last month, the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference took place with top minds meeting to discuss the main challenges facing digital health. 

The current pandemic has successfully exhausted health systems around the world to their limits. During the opening panel of the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Europe Digital Conference titled, Leveraging Digital Health to Predict, Prevent and Manage Future Health Crises, moderator Hal Wolf, CEO and President of HIMSS spoke with four panelists about the impact digital technologies have had on healthcare amid the pandemic and the challenges that need to be tackled to ensure inclusivity and access to digital health programs.

Digital health status

During the conference, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, highlighted the fact that digital health has been expedited greatly this year, as he claims “COVID-19 has given impetus for countries to accelerate the adoption of digital health”. He added that throughout the WHO European region, 30 out of 53 countries have adopted some manner of digital contact tracing for the pandemic despite issues and challenges surrounding privacy and secondary use of data. 

A further milestone was met as a digital ICU registry was set up to assist in monitoring bed capacity, which usually would have taken two to three years to implement and set up however, it was done within four to six weeks.

Although the pandemic has proven to be a catalyst for the adoption of digital health tools, several challenges have been presented as well. 

Dr Pravene Nath, MD, Global Head for Digital Health Strategy, Personalized Health Care, Roche, USA noted challenges in three broad areas: access and administration, personalisation and operations. 

Access and Administration: The pandemic brought forward a widespread of Telehealth during a short period of time, however it is still uneven in terms of addressing all populations. 

Personalisation: There is still some way to go for a digitally enabled, personalized, condition-focused digital health care system. Solutions such as remote patient monitoring coupled with a care delivery model will allow us all to go a long way. 

Operations: Issues such as demand forecasting, capacity management, and supply chain management are becoming critical, and technologies are adequately addressing these problems. However, the tech tools must be handed to healthcare providers, enabling them to make informed operational decisions with real time data.  

Finally, Dr Kluge commented that the current pandemic has highlighted several significant shortcomings, especially in some countries’ capabilities of accessing real time data. From the WHO perspective, actions must be taken to shift from academic practices and solutions towards more pragmatic and tangible solutions that will enable the widespread use of digital health systems. 

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MedTech

Why GovTech adoption during COVID-19 is a must

Adnan Kayyali

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Govtech

GovTech is a new term that refers to the modernization and/or digitization of government services for better accessibility and efficiency of public services. A mouth full, but this suggests a need for governments to do what the private sector has been doing from the start: embrace and incorporate industry 4.0 technology. However, to do so on a governmental level is complex.

The tech revolution occurring around the world, accelerated by the pandemic will not wait for governments to search their paper file cabinet for a solution. Citizens’ expectations of speed and efficiency are set higher by the private sector.

Too many authorities in developing nations, and many government-managed institutions in developed nations, are woefully behind on tech adoption within their systems.

According to the World Bank’s definition as stated in their brief, GovTech is essentially about putting people first.

“GovTech is a whole-of-government approach to public sector modernization that promotes simple, accessible, and efficient government”.

Governments who had already begun improving their digital infrastructure before the pandemic, had a better chance of curbing outbreaks after the initial wave with known exceptions. Namely the US and UK. 

Examples of GovTech used well during the pandemic can be found more to the east, in Singapore and South Korea among others, where data-gathering and citizen compliance with safety measures worked well to begin with.

Still, in the United states we see examples of GovTech being implemented even before the pandemic.

In areas of infrastructure, 120 Water Audit was recently launched, a cloud-based water management software, that a government on any level and size can use to minimize water waste.

During the pandemic, we have seen companies like BlueDot develop early warning systems to predict outbreaks, allowing governments to react preemptively. These systems used data gathered from numerous data sets from news, medical records and airlines to detect certain trends using their algorithm.

In the future, we should expect better GovTech adoption in public health services. Governments must work with the private sector to secure the right systems and consolidate their systems for better data collection. Undoubtedly, this is a long-term process.

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MedTech

Vaccine warriors: University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine update

Mounir Jamil

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University of Oxford

As the race for a new COVID-19 vaccine continues, the University of Oxford vaccine is effective at stopping people from developing COVID-19 symptoms. Overall, results indicated 70 percent protection rate, however, researchers claim that figures can increase to 90% if the dose is modified. 

Study lead, Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, has vast experience in clinical trials of new and improved vaccines for children and adults. 

In comparison to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the University of Oxford vaccine is far cheaper, easier to store and can be transported to every country around the world. It shows highly promising use in tackling the current pandemic, if it gets the approval from regulators, who will assess the vaccine based on safety, efficacy and manufacturing standards. This process is set to take place in the coming weeks.  

While typical vaccines usually take around a decade to be developed, the University of Oxford vaccine was developed in about 10 months. Initial trials involved a sample size of 20,000 individuals: 10,000 participants in the UK and 10,000 participants in Brazil. From the study, there were 30 Coronavirus cases from those who received two doses of the vaccine and 101 cases in people receiving placebo treatment.

The researchers say it works out at 70 percent protection however, it increased to 90 percent when people were given a “low” dose followed by a high one. It remains unclear why there is a difference. 

Although nothing will happen until the University of Oxford vaccine receives full approval, the UK is preparing for an unprecedented immunization campaign. Care home residents and staff will be the first in line while healthcare workers and citizens 80 years and above, will be the next priority. The plan is to steadily work down the age groups. 

After Pfizer and Moderna introduced their vaccine candidates with a protection rate of 95 and 90 percent respectively, a figure of 70 percent might be perceived by some as disappointing. However, in reality, anything above 50 percent is considered promising. 

AstraZeneca, Oxford University’s manufacturing partner is prepping to make three billion doses of the vaccine to be made available worldwide.

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MedTech

Research finds UV light technology capable of neutralizing COVID-19 air particles

Adnan Kayyali

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UV light technology

Recent research conducted by researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Leeds Beckett University suggests that UV light technology can be used to neutralize COVID-19 particles traveling through the air. This kind of UV light called ‘Upper room UVGI’ (UV Germicidal Irradiation) could then be used to curb the spread of the virus.

Although we know that UVC light can be harmful to humans, upper room UVGI works through UV light technology by creating an irradiation field above people’s heads where it inactivates COVID-19 particles in the room’s atmosphere – while people remain untouched.

The research published in the journal PeerJ details that the technology has already been used against airborne diseases such as measles and tuberculosis within buildings. By analyzing the historical data around it, the researchers concluded that using UVGI technology could be used to do the same for COVID-19.

“Now we know that COVID-19 infection can occur from airborne exposure to the virus, finding ways to minimise the risk of transmission, particularly in buildings is becoming increasingly important”, said Professor Clive Beggs, Emeritus Professor of Applied Physiology at Leeds Beckett University, “Whilst we know wearing masks and opening windows are effective ways to minimise the spread of Covid-19 indoors, these measures aren’t always practical, especially in winter.”

The research underlines the feasibility of using the technology in crowded areas where space is limited like hospital hallways or in places like cafes and restaurants, or in areas of poor ventilation. In addition to respecting traditional social safety measures, the high UV light technology can help minimize the number of transmissions that can occur.

 “Now it becomes more of an engineering problem of how we can use this technique to prevent the spread in buildings”, said Dr Eldad Avital, Reader in Computational Fluids and Acoustics at Queen Mary. “This is where computational fluid dynamics becomes important as it can start to address questions around how many UVGI lights are needed and where they should be used. One thing we know is particularly important for these systems is air movement, so for them to work effectively in poorly ventilated spaces, you might need to use ceiling fans or other devices to ensure that larger aerosol particles are adequately irradiated.”

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