We are facing unprecedented times as the Coronavirus outbreak worsens and we adapt to physical distancing and a new way of life. Healthcare systems are doing their utmost to cope, led by all our amazing medical teams on the front line.
Yet, though we have come a long way in our global approach compared to our response to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) a decade ago, we must do more.
So how can our health system evolve to better respond to the Coronavirus pandemic?
Continued globalization now ensures that the risk of spreading pathogens will only increase. This means our health systems must be able to respond more rapidly to crises of this kind. This can only happen with easier access to reliable and timely data that drives smart decision support tools to help us make more informed decisions.
As seen in almost any other sector, for this to happen, our healthcare system must evolve to enable:
- Standardized and harmonized data collection
- Open and shared data access
With this available, we can then let our brilliant scientists, entrepreneurs and doctors throughout the world do their job! And create innovative solutions that will help us better respond, control, prevent and hopefully treat the Coronavirus.
Just think how fast data is shared and results happen in our banking and e-commerce industry! The medical field should also benefit from the recent technological progress we are experiencing and translate that into helping patients and doctors.
So let me explain more on how I believe better data access could help transform the Coronavirus fight:
1. We could use up-to-date insights to better respond to the Coronavirus outbreak
Our current approach to manage the pandemic involves scientific committees looking at past statistical data and designing specific, controlled clinical trials to find new treatments. For example, the WHO designed a megatrial to test 4 potential medications. This is an important approach and they are doing an amazing job in very difficult circumstances.
Yet, with the Coronavirus changing and spreading at an unprecedented rate, shouldn’t we analyze live up-to-date patient data, and learn from it? Shouldn’t we view this data for each person in a population – both symptomatic and asymptomatic, and continuously optimize our response?
Imagine what we could do…
We would be able to make flexible decisions based on true conditions. We would be more informed to know what treatment regimen worked and what resulted in devastating side-effects. We would be further informed about who should and who shouldn’t be in quarantine, and who should or shouldn’t be on a specific antiviral treatment.
There are already startups offering new levels of remote monitoring solutions providing doctors with real-time 360-degree views of COVID-19 positive patients’ health. However, we are still missing a significant piece of the puzzle! What about those patients who were undiagnosed at the start or were asymptomatic, often leading the spread of the disease? Why are we not using the data we have, for example from health apps, like FITBIT, Google and Apple Watches, to see noticeable changes in health trends.
We could also ask all families of COVID-19 positive patients, whether asymptomatic or symptomatic, each day to complete a simple clinical screening survey. Indeed, scientists from the Weizmann Institute in Israel have just done something very similar to this – a great example of digital innovation in action! Using tools like their app, we can better track changes in symptoms to help us better pinpoint potential new outbreaks, and where and when to quarantine. Rather than whole countries needing to close, we localize to areas of need. This will bring both significant economic and emotional benefits.
2. We could ease healthcare regulations to enable faster digital innovation
As the Coronavirus is evolving so rapidly, the only way we will truly be able to manage its spread, until a potential treatment or vaccine is found, is by using data to make faster and more informed decisions. This means we need to change our traditional healthcare approach.
Regulations must be eased to help fast track digital tools and bring to market more quickly vaccines and treatments. The recent FDA fast-track of a test to diagnose Coronavirus in 45 minutes is a good example of this in action.
However, there remains a gap. Particularly, between the innovative digital world focussed on personalized care and our traditional regulatory system segmenting populations. Without easing these barriers, the healthcare sector will forever be stuck in catch-up mode as the Coronavirus outpaces us.
We will continue to miss out on taking advantage of the wealth of medical data at our fingertips to create novel solutions that could drastically help tackle some of the Coronavirus-induced situations we now live in.
3. We could create a better healthcare reality for a new pandemic world
Current estimates suggest we may be in some form of physical isolation for 1-2 years until a vaccine or treatment is hopefully found. This means we will be living a very different reality for a significant amount of time. Furthermore, the mutative nature of this (and other) viruses means that we will need to keep on monitoring for changes, and to test for continued vaccine effectiveness. The resulting data we can then use to better adapt treatments to new virus strains.
As healthcare becomes more virtual, our reliance on data will become more important. And only by putting in place the right structure to support us, to both collect data in an orderly and harmonized fashion and make this accessible to creative people, will we be able to develop medical tools that can make a huge impact on our quality of life during this period.
It is simply unsustainable for whole countries, or even regions, to keep going into quarantine every 2-3 months as outbreaks return. This will lead to an economic catastrophe of the likes we have never seen with devastating consequences on our quality of life. It is therefore vital that we recreate how our health system works with easing of regulations to better support individual’s health and privacy.
4. We must understand that our healthcare system is not separate from our economy
With more and more people living in quarantine and job losses growing daily – we can no longer look at the health system as separate from our economy. The level of the global financial burden from the Coronavirus will have consequences for most likely a generation.
Furthermore, our new daily reality will impact our lives in other ways. The enclosed environments and lack of traditional social contact will increase risk from mental health conditions. With depression already the number 1 disability worldwide, this may skyrocket to new levels not seen before. Early estimates suggest mental health conditions will increase by between 25-50%, and we are just at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. These are worrying figures which we need to be addressing now before we have a new mental health crisis on our hands.
However, for us to better manage both the Coronavirus and these associated health conditions, we need data. Data that we can learn from in real-time to help optimize our approaches and reduce individual patient risk.
PREDICTIX Antidepressants, our clinical support tool for physicians to personalize medication, is one example of this approach. PREDICTIX Antidepressants combines and analyses genetic data with real-world clinical and demographic information, to increase antidepressant treatment success rates. Read more about our approach here.
So what next?
We have the data, we have the people and we have the analytical tools to create the solutions we so desperately need.
Surely now is the time to evolve our healthcare system to make this data accessible and standardized at a global level.
I envisage an improved healthcare structure optimized for the digital age building on our excellent foundations to date. One that through significant easing of bureaucratic regulations and barriers supports rapid assimilation of digital solutions into care. One that works to establish global collaborations to deliver far-reaching changes in data-sharing and access to help us collect medical data in a uniform and coordinated standard way. One that works to create a global platform for sharing this data, that learns with the data in an ever-evolving way, for the benefit of the patients and doctors.
The PREDICTIX platform which collects diverse data sources and continually optimizes by learning with the patient to help personalize treatment and management, is based on this technology premise.
Just as in almost all other sectors, it is clear to me that health systems throughout the world must align in order for humanity to continue to advance. With the continued global collaboration and openness seen to date in the fight against the Coronavirus, I am sure we can make this happen, and we will as always, come out stronger on the other side.
Catch my next blog where I will delve more deeply into the benefits of healthcare data-sharing and access, and how using artificial intelligence and machine learning we can reveal new insights to help better fight the Coronavirus pandemic.