5 Healthcare Technologies That Are Helping Us Fight COVID-19 — Part 2

January 11, 2021 - 8 minutes read

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As we start vaccinating frontline workers and at-risk populations across the world, it seems that the end is in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic. We have a multitude of technologies, old and new, to thank for helping humanity make it through this crisis.

From artificial intelligence (AI) applications to UV light, we’ll discuss five more technologies that are being used to save lives and stop the spread of the virus in this second and final post of our series about COVID-19 technologies. You’ll notice many of the tools we dive into are data-focused, and for good reason: sharing data and analyzing it faster and more efficiently is imperative for humanity to beat this pandemic.

Remotely Monitoring Ventilators

Many hospitals, in an effort to save staff from infection risk and prevent understaffing, started using remote surveillance technology to monitor COVID-19 patients. These patients often arrive at the hospital with already-reduced breathing functionality, many waiting outside in the ambulance for hours before being admitted. When they eventually make their way into the ICU and start breathing through a ventilator, their vitals need to be monitored closely and frequently.

However, there isn’t enough PPE (personal protective equipment) for nurses and doctors to change into when going from room to room. In these common cases, remote surveillance has been a life-saving technology, in more ways than one. According to Chris Gutmann, the executive director of information technology (IT) for Yale New Haven Health, the Yale healthcare system has been using the technology across five of its hospitals during the past year.

A ventilated patient surveillance workstation allows medical staff to remotely hear and see the ventilators across the hospital, even if ICU patients are located in a non-ICU part of the hospital due to a shortage of ICU beds. The workstation analyzes the ventilator data in real-time and allows the Yale tele-ICU group to check-in at any time. When an emergency arises, it escalates “clinically actionable events to respiratory therapists, pulmonologists and intensivists,” says Gutmann. Remote surveillance has optimized efficiency and the use of PPE across Yale hospitals.

AI for Data Mining

During the pandemic, AI is being used for its strong suit: analyzing enormous amounts of data. In this case, medical records are being analyzed by AI to find patients that are already admitted to the hospital and flag those with the highest risk based on medical history. Using this information, hospital staff can prioritize who should receive treatment first. AI has been one of the strongest tools used in the fight against COVID-19.

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Interoperability

Interoperable health IT is crucial for a team effort against the virus, specifically in data sharing. Azalea Health, a medical development platform, implemented a HIPAA-compliant cloud-based electronic medical record solution during the height of the pandemic. Using this digital system, the entire state of Arkansas was connected to local facilities that wanted to share their information with other healthcare providers.

According to Brian Miller, the CEO of Dewitt Hospital and Nursing Home, the solution “enabled us to connect our clinic and hospital to the state health information exchange to collect and securely store health data from thousands of constituents being tested at the clinic.” This freed up physicians to conduct more tests, rather than spend time on the phone with other providers sharing and comparing notes.

Better Access to Medical History

Speaking of interoperability, another major tool used during the pandemic was the digital sharing of medical history. Matthew Michela is the CEO of Life Image, a Boston-based healthcare interoperability company that focuses on sharing images. According to Michela, when patients arrive at the hospital for COVID-19 treatment, only 6% had their health history digitally available. By using technology to reduce the dependence on paper and physical records, healthcare facilities were able to more easily control the spread of infection and increase access for other facilities to important medical data.

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Michela notes that “healthcare data is notoriously siloed,” which is a popular sentiment from people experienced in analyzing data from different medical facilities. Even neighboring medical facilities, if not owned by the same company, can have different data infrastructure and organization. When a patient is experiencing rapidly decreasing levels of hypoxia, there is no time to hunt down their medical history.

Often, however, the patient is unable to speak without losing their ability to breathe stably, which creates a massive problem for medical staff. Without a medical history, administering drugs or treatments could result in immediate death. Thankfully, says Michela, “The gap in access to important clinical information was quickly recognized, and many in the industry deployed existing technology solutions to effectively exchange data with community providers or patients to better coordinate care.”

UVC Light

Ultraviolet C (UVC) light was being used in some hospitals prior to the pandemic to disinfect rooms. At the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Maryland, a device named CRIS (short for “clean rooms improved safety”) emits UVC light to sterilize rooms in the ER and ICU. The antiviral and antibacterial effects of UVC light are well-known, and new research shows that UVC can possibly inactivate SARS-CoV-2. Although the FDA is not completely for or against the technology, they’ve published some guidance on their website: “Currently there is limited published data about wavelength, dose, and duration of UVC radiation required to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

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With Technology, Anything Is Possible

The ten technologies we’ve covered in our series are working to save more lives, PPE, and medical supplies. Without these tools, we might be looking at another few years of quarantines, social distancing, and masks, but thanks to innovations in vaccines, data sharing, remote monitoring, rapid testing, contact tracing, and more, we’re better equipped for another worldwide pandemic.

What technologies do you think helped humanity the most during the COVID-19 pandemic so far? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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