Today, the world is in the midst of a pandemic similar to the Spanish Flu outbreak that happened a century ago. Spanish Flu is considered as one of the deadliest pandemics in history that killed 50 million people and lasted for two years. Thankfully, this time we have the technology and medical innovation to tackle the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic. The global race for developing vaccines, treatment procedures, diagnostic kits, and preventive tools is well underway. But one thing is certain, COVID-19 will certainly change the way we live.
A global public health crisis is an eye-opener for the life sciences and healthcare industry, which has its own shortcomings and is traditionally slow in adopting new technologies. Utilizing available healthcare data and technology innovation can help the industry fight the current pandemic while revolutionizing healthcare in the long-term.
Some of the most pertinent technical solutions and data analytics opportunities that the life sciences and healthcare industry can capitalize in order to reap long-lasting benefits are as follows:
Public Health: Today solutions for the prevention of disease and public health measures are critical for our survival. For instance, measures like social distancing, frequent handwashing, use of masks, etc. are being followed around the world to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, effective preventive/public health services are difficult to achieve considering that widespread interventions enforced by local or national authorities like population behavior modification are plagued by limited community awareness.
Use of mobile applications by local or national authorities to reach out to population effectively for spreading awareness, capturing health status, disseminating dietary information, nearby testing sites, surveillance, contact tracing, and guide for next steps can be extremely helpful. Dissemination of information regarding a new symptom or treatment breakthrough through the use of technology is also extremely important to prevent the disease and reinforce the preventive measures. For example, information regarding new symptoms in children, severe stroke-like symptoms in young adults, and pets can further help the affected sub group of the population to take quick measures.
Additionally, affected population data from a county/city/state and sources like CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) can be aggregated with the help of technology to create geographical maps for prevalence and incidence of the disease. Healthcare identification of hot spots, identification of therapeutic area-specific patients for clinical trials, observational studies, etc. are some other areas where technology can have a massive impact. In fact, these practices when fortified by technology can have the potential to advance research and development for other health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, etc.
Diagnostic Centers: Diagnostic centers help in detecting and confirming the disease so treatment intervention can be started or modified. The pandemic has led to the development of new diagnostic tools such as home tests and rapid antibody testing. Mobile applications for patients can not only provide results of their diagnostic tests but can also facilitate data capture from home testing, next steps, disease information, and option to enroll in a clinical trial-specific to their therapeutic area. Analytics and AI/ML data for diagnostics can provide insights for patient recruitment for clinical trials.
Hospitals: Hospitals and medical staff are overburdened with COVID-19 patients and treatment for non-COVID patients has taken a backseat. Telemedicine has now emerged as a successful solution to treat patients and reduce healthcare provider risk especially for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms or non-COVID patients. Telemedicine has the potential to become a popular way of patient-physician interaction in the future, post-COVID-19. This healthcare innovation not only limits the risk of spreading the disease but also makes healthcare services accessible in areas where there is a shortage of doctors.
Augmented Reality (AR) as a technology also has the potential to transform how doctors perform a remote physical examination. Mobile applications/portals deployed by hospitals can be used by patients and patients’ families after their OPD visit or discharge from the hospital to gain more information about the disease, visit details, and clinical trial sign up option. Hospital data can be used more effectively by running analytics and AI/ML for observational studies and recruiting patients for the trials.
Clinical Trials: Drugs and vaccine development for COVID-19 has taken a center stage during the pandemic. Promising lead candidates and COVID-19 patients for the trials can be identified using AI/ML models on existing hospitals and clinical research data to expedite the discovery of a drug. Patient recruitment has always been a major challenge for clinical trials and is now impacted even more by pandemic due to fear, social distancing, and quarantine guidelines, etc.
With new FDA guidance on clinical trials during a public health emergency, there is a great opportunity for using new edge technological innovation such as virtual trials, telemedicine, e-consent, remote patient monitoring, and sensors for data capture, etc. to increase patient recruitment and compliance. Applications can be leveraged to provide automatic reminders or alerts for taking medicine, track patient compliance, capture data from sensors and home tests. The mental health status of the participants can also be captured to exclude and monitor bias in the study, especially during COVID-19. Healthcare data from different counties, diagnostic labs, hospitals, and public sources can be aggregated for analysis to identify best regions, sites and patients for appropriate clinical trials. With the recent project by Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium (CDISC) to streamline Electronic Health Record (EHR) data, it can be effectively used for clinical research in the future.
Often, with great challenges come great opportunities. There is a need to develop strategies to prevent pandemics like COVID-19 in the future as well as learn from the impact it has created. The pandemic might just provide that much-needed that medical and scientific community needed to move towards the next level of healthcare innovations which was long-due in the life sciences and healthcare industry.