Chat rooms and robots: How the pandemic changed medicine

Never before had we not found themselves in a situation where the basic medical advice to all – do not go to clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities. The changes that are now taking place in all industries will not disappear after the lifting of quarantine measures – not only because the danger of a new wave of the epidemic will remain at least until universal vaccination, but also because some of them are long-awaited. Let’s see how the field of medical care will change.              

Experts predict that online medicine will only evolve. Even after several weeks of quarantine or self-isolation in different countries, many remote services began to work better; clinics literally on their knees created the possibility of recording telephone and video consultations, and doctors began to conduct them . But if so far this measure was forced and urgent, then later it will become part of the regular health care system. The popularity of the Amwell telemedicine app in the United States has grown by 158% since January , and according to PlushCare , the number of virtual consultations has increased by 70%.                    

Many companies (not just medical ones) will find that the ability to work remotely makes life easier for employees and saves money. Most likely, new businesses can be expected to take off – those that will create online solutions for others, including clinics, pharmacies and universities. This is not only about imitation of face-to-face consultations, when the patient communicates with the doctor via video link, but also about the complete automation of some aspects. An answering machine offering to press a particular number depending on the question you are interested in is already such an automatic system that helps direct a person to the right specialist without the participation of a telephone operator . And this is the simplest version of “artificial intelligence”.                  

At a more advanced level, AI can, for example, evaluate CT results, helping to sort patients with a new coronavirus infection so that they receive optimal care. Such technologies have been developed for a long time – for example, it is known that artificial intelligence can diagnose lung cancer , eye diseases , and detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease (before relatives notice them ). But if before the pandemic such developments were carried out mainly out of scientific interest, with the prospect only sometime in the future to begin to apply them in practice, now this future has come.                     

The current crisis has made health system deficiencies more visible, and many countries will have to tackle their renewal thoroughly.

It was reported about one patient with a new coronavirus infection who was treated by a robot – it is unlikely that this is possible on a mass level, but why not provide, for example, part of the hospital cleaning due to advanced robotic vacuum cleaners, as is already happening in Shanghai. In Thailand robots that previously observed for patients recovering from a stroke, reprogram – Now they follow the body temperature and help patients communicate with doctors by video link. In Belgium, ZoraBots donated robots for free in residences for seniors so that they can keep in touch with loved ones during periods when visits are prohibited.                          

Telemedicine will be included in health insurance coverage, public or private, as Medicare reported in the United States that coverage for such services is universal. There is nothing surprising in this – why not insurance cover demanded services, effective and safe? True, they should be legally defined as medical, with a clear explanation of whether online consultation is equivalent to face- to -face consultation or can only be an addition to it. In the future , even digital phonendoscopes, otoscopes, ECG devices for use by non – physicians may appear on the market – and the data will be sent to a specialist for interpretation.                    

WHO supports the development of telemedicine – this helps to monitor patients, avoiding their appearance in clinics, and therefore, reducing the risk of the spread of the virus. In the United Arab Emirates, work is underway to create the first fully virtual hospital in the Middle East. In the US, the company Altoida NMI1, which is engaged in the remote observation of the work of the brain, at the time a pandemic has made their services free of charge and for clinics, and for telemedicine services providers – all to ensure that people with cognitive disabilities continued to receive assistance, even from home.                    

In Italy, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic, a chatbot has appeared , developed on the basis of recommendations of the Ministry of Health – it allows you to remotely sort potential cases of a new coronavirus infection, telling a person whether he just needs to stay at home, stay at home and call a medical facility , or even call an ambulance. This made it possible to reduce the number of visits to the clinic, and, therefore, travel and contacts in general. Similar bots have been launched in many countries; the corresponding website of the Emory University School of Medicine is available even in Russian. And there is no reason why such solutions will not be created for other, very different indications not related to SARS-CoV-19.                       

The current crisis has made health system deficiencies more visible, and many countries will have to tackle their renewal seriously. On the other hand, thanks to technology, for the first time, we were able to see how things are going around the world with applications and interactive maps, and we learned that a hospital can be built in six days; saw how tests for the virus and antibodies to it evolve , becoming cheaper and faster. People will continue to make decisions, but they will be based on the results of calculations, and the data for these calculations, ideally, should not be entered manually, but come automatically. Algorithms are emerging , for example, for calculating hospital utilization – and if used wisely, it will be easier to prevent the next such crisis.                        

People will continue to make decisions, but they will be based on the results of calculations, the data for which will come automatically

Medical education will also change . It can be expected that the basics of telemedicine will now be taught, and at least theoretical subjects will be taught online , which means that education will become cheaper. There will be no need to pay salaries to lecturers, maintain existence, clean up, repair classrooms; there will be no need to leave home to be closer to the university until clinical subjects begin. There are already fully online universities where you can get additional education related to medicine, such as the University of the People and the James Lind Institute . Of course, you can’t learn to be a practicing doctor in them , but the principle is clear – many subjects and topics can be studied remotely.                    

The format of online lectures itself will also evolve; in addition to traditional webinars and simply distributing reading material, interactive tools and simulations will be used . The Washington Post has published material describing a fictional disease “simulates” – thanks to animated graphics, it is easy to understand how the epidemic develops. For example, Harvard employee Alison Hill has developed a tool that can be used for educational purposes, substituting different parameters for patients with COVID-19.       

Thanks to the situation in which we all unwittingly found ourselves , the world saw that much more can be done remotely than it seemed. All of us have visited the online meetings, online lectures and in -line bars. And if it is difficult to find an equivalent replacement for live meetings with friends and family, then refusing to travel to work often does not reduce its effectiveness, but it has a beneficial effect on the environment. Of course, absolutely all processes will not be able to become digital – but this is completely justified for those cases, the quality of which does not change from the transition to remote work . 

local_offerevent_note March 26, 2021

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