Customers are required to scan the QR code of the Leave Home Safe mobile app at a restaurant at Lan Kwai Fong in Central on June 3. Photo: May Tse
Lance Little
Lance Little

How pandemic tech successes can improve the future of health care

  • The digitalisation of health care using internet of things technologies helps manage outbreaks and strengthens preparedness for future pandemics
  • Its use in the broader health care system can reduce health care professionals’ burden and build resilience for the management of diseases beyond Covid-19

It has been 18 months since Covid-19 took over the world. A question that has been top of mind for most people is, “When will the pandemic end?”.

Experts recognise that the virus could become endemic like the flu. The Singapore government’s task force aptly summed it up when it outlined a “new normal”: “The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst.”
While Covid-19 continues to present a public health challenge, many countries have started to make moves to cautiously resume economic activities and open up borders. According to the International Monetary Fund, a faster end to the pandemic and resumption of economic activity could inject the equivalent of US$9 trillion into the global economy by 2025.
In the Asia-Pacific, too, governments are beginning to draw up plans to implement a risk-based approach. To ensure the safe reopening of borders, there are increased calls of implementing digital health solutions such as digital health passports.

Such internet of things technologies play an important role in helping us adapt to a new normal. The digitalisation of health care using such technologies will allow health systems to develop robust surveillance systems to monitor patient data that can provide early warnings and timely information.


From translation, monitoring vitals signs to purifying air, face masks go hi-tech

From translation, monitoring vitals signs to purifying air, face masks go hi-tech
In this interconnected world, a bigger digitalisation push can support our bid to move towards a new normal and equip us for the future. We have already seen how digitalisation has assisted our recovery from Covid-19. Its use in the broader health care system can reduce the burden faced by health care professionals and build resilience for the management of diseases beyond Covid-19.
To do this, health systems must ensure the long-term adoption of clinical practices that have proven effective in the pandemic environment. We cannot afford to revert to pre-pandemic practices because there is no reimbursement for new interventions. For instance, health systems should consider how digital technologies such as teleconsulting that became an essential part of care delivery during the pandemic remain so even after.

Telemedicine is the game changer to emerge from Covid-19, say experts

Other tools in use during the pandemic could also prove useful for the longer term. More than a year ago, polymerase chain reaction testing was used to isolate infected cases and reduce the transmission of virus in communities. The speed with which countries were able to introduce, expand and evolve their testing strategies determined their early success in containing its spread.

Covid-19 has provided real-world evidence of the benefits of a comprehensive pandemic management programme – one that relies on testing, vaccination, disease surveillance and digital tools. Now, the initial strategy of protection has made way for a road map to recovery and the resumption of activities as the virus becomes endemic.


How Hong Kong’s new coronavirus contact-tracing app works

How Hong Kong’s new coronavirus contact-tracing app works
One of the most visible signs of change is in consumer acceptance for digital technologies and new testing innovations. Wearables and embedded sensors are now becoming, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of test and trace apps, an acceptable part of normal life.
With the introduction of self-testing kits and high-frequency surveillance testing programmes at educational institutes, large corporations and long-term care facilities, among others, we are likely to see greater acceptance among the masses.

Ultimately, all of this will generate massive amounts of data, and I see increasing willingness among ecosystem players to leverage technologies that can analyse information. This will truly transform how care is delivered.

Internet of things technologies can enable health care professionals to build personalised patient profiles by integrating health data, clinical trial results and scientific publications which support accurate diagnostics and inform data-driven, evidence-based treatment plans.

This places preventive care at the centre of the patient journey in the health care system and can better identify groups of patients with similar characteristics for improved treatment design in the future. The benefits are endless.

The sharing of knowledge and data in real time is vital and unprecedented in this moment. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown it is possible for wide-scale private-public collaboration.

Lance Little is managing director of Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific