By Adaeze Theresa Ogeah
August 1, 2020
It is no news that the world has been hit hard [by the COVID-19 pandemic], and our world is no longer as we knew it to be. The COVID-19 pandemic has dreadfully disrupted the normal affairs of the world, and the big questions are, “will we ever recover?” “can the world stand against this?” “is there a chance for the human race?” All these are questions that bother the inquisitive mind.
So, how did we get here? The new coronavirus came with a great wind of pain, robbing the world of lives cherished by family, friends and colleagues; great minds inclusive. It has affected every race and gender, caused loss the world is yet to recover from, and has forced all hands to be on deck, in a fight for our lives. Among those “fighting” assiduously to give our world some respite are healthcare providers, who are at the forefront of the “fight”, and are most exposed to the virus, which came as though with its terms and conditions of “come close to someone who is affected, and
you could be the next. Otherwise, keep your distance!” Hence, social distancing has become the order of the day.
Based on the new normal , typical human activities of sharing space, other natural and artificial resources, which characterise us as social beings and a society, have been greatly affected, and yet again, it is technology to the rescue.
In the past few decades, technology defied distance so impressively that our world was dubbed a global village. That notwithstanding, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has made our world even smaller, as the adoption of smart technologies in virtually all walks of life, and as part of the new normal, is bringing us closer than we have ever been. The way information is currently being disseminated and exchanged, especially health information, is giving us an advantage of protecting ourselves in a trying time as this, and it makes me wonder what would have become of us, if they were no information and communication technologies. Well, what can we say in the light of all this, if not to be thankful for the emerging technologies and improvements in our world today, especially in the Health sector, and that brings us to Digital Health.
This term Digital Health, also fondly called DigiHealth, may have been described from different points of view, however, the concept basically centres around the use of information technology/electronic communication tools, services and processes to deliver health care services or to facilitate better health. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS),
Digital Health connects and empowers people and populations to manage health and wellness, augmented by accessible and supportive provider teams working within flexible, integrated, interoperable, and digitally-enabled care environments that strategically leverage digital tools, technologies and services to transform care delivery.
From the foregoing, Digital Health encompasses a wide range of health services. And as the name implies, it is the convergence of health care management into digital technology. Unlike the traditional walk in healthcare service option, Digital Health helps to enhance the efficiency of healthcare delivery, and make medicine personalized and precise online. Consequently, it covers a wide range of products and services such as telemedicine, ingestible sensors, wearable gadgets, down to mobile apps, and it aims at benefiting both the patients and the healthcare providers.
Among notable organisations that have capitalised on Digital Health is the World Health Organization (WHO), a frontliner in the global fight against the new coronavirus. WHO has leveraged Digital Health to help tackle the spread of the Virus around the world. It has developed a Global Strategy on Digital Health (for 2020-2024) with the aim of promoting healthy lives and wellbeing for every one, every where, and of all ages. WHO has also come up with a three-tier approach to Digital Health delivery, and they are aimed at ‘supporting decision makers at all levels to ensure sustainable, safe and ethical use of technology, facilitating the capacity for practitioners to use digital technologies to deliver healthcare benefits effectively, and improving health and well-being of people with the intervention of Digital health.
This has caused significant changes in medical decisions, treatments, and diagnosis, as there are now new forms of home diagnosis, with the aid of new and improved mobile apps with avenues for patients to access on-call Doctors online. Apparently, this is a major stride towards victory in the fight against COVID-19. Also notable is WHO’s Chatbot on Facebook Messenger, launched to combat COVID-19 misinformation. This technological strategy gives individuals all around the world the opportunity to get “instant and accurate information about COVID-19”, via Facebook’s global reach, hence, the chatbot’s ability to reply queries in languages other than English. This I would say is quality information at your finger tips.
With fear still lingering the streets, many people are scared to leave the comfort of their homes to seek medical attention in hospitals, because of the fear of physical contacts. That notwithstanding, pro-health mobile apps are standing in the gap, as those in need of medical assistance can now contact Doctors online, where the Doctors can provide answers readily to questions, through video chats, emails, and several other digital communication media, all in the comfort of their homes. As a result, the influx of people into hospitals over seemingly minor conditions, and the likelihood of physical contacts have been reduced. This innovation is a fast growing trend, though it still requires further improvement, but at the moment at least, it has proven useful.
The world we live in has gone digital, and virtually every activity is done online. If you can sell and buy items online without getting caught in the physical hustle and bustle of day-to-day business transactions, so can you have your health needs tended to online — no more waiting on the queue for consultations, nor having to carry files and papers from one place to another. Rather, with wearable smart devices, heart rate can be monitored, weight loss tracked, number of steps counted, down to the amount of calories burned, to mention but a few.
In an exclusive interview with a Medical Doctor, Nnamdi Ogbogu, who is an active practitioner of DigiHealth with a Nigerian medical-tech company, so much was revealed from his experience shared with me. According to him, many patients accept and approve of Digital Health, and with the outbreak of COVID-19, patients feel at ease with less physical contact and opt for DigiHealth, as they consider it less stressful and convenient. Though the digital route allows patients converse freely with their doctors or medical assistants, Dr. Ogbogu states that Digital Health is not without its own challenges, as online consultations do not suffice for very severe cases. However, the impact of the adoption of technology in health and healthcare services cannot be undermined, as significant successes have been recorded.
Now, more than ever, in the light of a post COVID-19 economy, access to one’s medical information and history would be just by a simple tapping of one’s mobile device. Post COVID-19 activities are envisaged to usher in a convergence between the Medical Sciences and Technology, which will further improve the global health sector, as well as effectively tackle present and future health challenges. That said, the onus now lies on heads of nations and appropriate stakeholders to ensure sustainable advances in health and healthcare systems, by funding research in Digital Health, and investing in other aspects of the area. Furthermore, healthcare providers should be equipped with knowledge and skills in Digital Health, as well as have access to Digital Health provisions. In similar vein, citizens should be equipped with adequate information on the need, adoption, and use of necessary health technologies.
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has brought about a need for the total evaluation and reassessment of global health services, and there is now, more than ever, need for, and access to new and innovative technological combination in readiness for contingencies in the health sector, hence, all tools made available should be maximally utilized, while new inventions and innovations should be facilitated. The positivity not withstanding, success in this light can only be complete if dwellers of rural and other underserved parts of the world, of Africa especially, enjoy equal knowledge, skills and access to all health technological advances as their “privileged” counterparts.
Together we can rise above our struggles and pain. Keep safe and Stay Healthy.
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