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Technology and Public Health Emergencies

New Tools to Help Fight Epidemics

In episode #121 of THE TONIC Talk Show (Feb 29/20) Health Technology expert George Barakat and Jamie Bussin discuss the various new digital tools that can help us deal with public health emergencies such as SARS and the Coronavirus. The following is a brief excerpt from their discussion. The full interview, with notes, can be found at thetonic.ca

 

Q. How do you see digital technology impacting public health?

A. Because of the ability to gather and interpret information faster, we can mobilize faster. The new technology allows governments to give their citizens better information faster, more efficiently and cheaper. So the crises can be responded to more efficiently, faster and perhaps cheaper. This will result in more lives being saved. Conversely, if there are populations that aren’t capable of digital communication, there will be gaps and it might be expensive to put the programs into place.

 

Q. What about conveying information to the public?

A. Historically, public health information would be shared via radio, television and newspaper. Now emergency information can be sent out instantaneously over cell phones, social media etc. Think of the Amber Alert texts that we get when a child goes missing.  Digital messaging also allows for more two-way information sharing in real time.

 

Q. Then there is the gathering and sharing of information by health care workers.

A. Digital files speed the communication process between front-line responders and those with information on how to diagnose and treat potential patients. Also video conferencing might allow for visual symptoms to be confirmed in real time. Historically you’d have to meet with first responders to inform them how to diagnose and treat illnesses. Now first responders can be trained in the field through video conferencing. So they don’t need to leave the front lines in order to learn how to deal with the emergency they’re currently handling.

 

Q. What specific existing tools are you most excited about?

A. Imagine a world where AI and faster information dissemination could lead to the faster development of vaccines. It enhances our prediction and detection capabilities. There’s also blockchain - the ability to gather information and share information (rather than the current ecosystem of copying information). With blockchain everyone has instantaneous access information with an ultimate transaction of the development of a vaccine. On the concurrent side, there is a new concept of omni-channel, and it is changing how healthcare is being provided to the consumer. It deals with the integration of previously siloed communication channels so that information isn’t lost. The Internet of Things connecting all sorts of devices and systems will allow governments to monitor environmental concerns such as air quality, energy consumption, waste management and traffic control - factors which impact health and the ability to respond to health emergencies. 

 

George Barakat co-founded Jack Nathan Health in 2006. He’s helped shape a new healthcare format by improving access to quality primary care in state-of-the-art medical clinics in retail settings across Canada.