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What future health tech development could most-profoundly change pandemic response?

What future health tech development could most-profoundly change pandemic response?

Home-based testing devices, drone delivery and wearables could alter the way the world prepares and recovers.

Angela Yochem

Executive Vice President, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Novant Health

Our ability to contain an outbreak depends upon our prediction, rapid detection and response capabilities. With unprecedented access to data from a variety of sources, prediction will come from understanding the movements, behaviors and the touch points of people once a virus is identified. Scalable detection becomes easier with the continued adoption of remote digital care devices.

The advanced sensors and increased connectedness of these devices will allow members of our communities to monitor and manage their own health with ever-greater accuracy. Incorporating new testing modalities into home-based devices will facilitate detection in near real-time — perhaps digitizing a small blood sample and testing the digital twin of the blood for a virus. Other rapid testing mechanisms are sure to be developed within five years that will better facilitate detection, allowing us to implement protections to counteract potential threats, and track the current state of health in our communities in real time as data streams in from digital care devices and a variety of other sources. Now consider use of drones for delivery of medicines and other supplies. Most importantly, advances in AI will accelerate the development of effective vaccinations for future outbreaks.

Most of these capabilities improve access to care for the communities we serve, regardless of whether there is an active epidemic. As we continue to leverage advances in technology to increase access to care and education, promote healthy habits, create safer communities, and address health inequities and other societal challenges, we will have healthier and more resilient communities, industries and economies should an outbreak occur.

Bradley Tusk

Chief Executive Officer at Tusk Ventures

This is an obvious answer but the more telemedicine means people can be treated without having to go to waiting rooms and hospitals, the less many communicable diseases will spread.

Also, if we were in a quarantine, delivery drones could help take care of people safely, and every advance in working remotely makes it easier for people to stay home and be productive. And arguably, the expansion of a free and open internet where people can get valid information could help educate people on what not to do (of course, the misinformation risk is also pretty high).

Shelten Yuen

Vice President, Research at Fitbit

In the future, I believe that wearable technology will play a significant role in forestalling the spread of infectious diseases similar to COVID-19. We are still learning more about COVID-19 on a daily basis, but what we do know is that identifying infections before an individual becomes symptomatic is critically important. The issue is one of scale: It is impossible for local clinics, airports and public health agencies to quickly screen every person for infection.

With wearable devices, we can detect a number of key health indicators, including heart rate, resting heart rate and sleep patterns, in large populations. Recently, science done by the Scripps Research Translational Institute discovered that de-identified, anonymized population-level data from Fitbit devices can be used to detect and predict the spread of influenza-like illnesses at the regional level. This result was published in Lancet Digital Health. The fevers and coughs of those sick were accompanied by an increase in resting heart rate — a physiological metric that is measured by Fitbit devices.

As wearables continue to evolve with advanced sensor technology and even more intelligent algorithms to infer meaning from the sensor data, the capabilities for wearables to act as early illness detection systems increases. Working in concert with public health organizations, we may be able to track the population-level spread of outbreaks even faster.

Kimber Lockhart

Chief Technology Officer at One Medical

Virtual care platforms, including One Medical's mobile app, have been essential in triaging and treating patients, lowering health risks of office-based providers and patients. Real-time messaging has been crucial to quickly disseminate information to providers and other team members, resolve questions quickly and coordinate care for at-risk patients.

In another five years, personalization at scale will allow us to customize recommendations and communications to patients, changing those recommendations as new facts emerge. These systems will be able to detect patterns in utilization, routing patients to the right place to get care for any question or concern.

Virtual care will continue to expand, integrating seamlessly with connected devices to get providers the information they need to evaluate, diagnose and monitor from a distance. On-demand delivery of medications and test kits will further enable care and monitoring away from the general public.

Once patients are actively being treated, genome and other patient data may allow for faster, more effective development of medications and treatment plans. Electronic Health Record systems will connect via open APIs and send push updates to keep care teams across health systems actively informed. This will ensure all providers have the up-to-date information they need to coordinate care.

Doug Hirsch

Co-Founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer at GoodRx

I would hope that we'd have a health care system that provides more affordable and accessible preventative and diagnostic care, so that sick patients could be identified more rapidly and care could be administered more efficiently.

In addition, I'd like to see advances around remote patient monitoring, so that changes to a patient's vital signs could be detected, possibly before they're even aware, and outbreaks could be more reliably tracked.

See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (Updated March 4, 2020).

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