It’s tough to say there can be any benefit to a pandemic that has strewn a path of destruction across the globe. But, there is at least one – the launch of medical technology years into the future.
What was believed to be the technology of five years down the road, has overnight become the technology of today. Telemedicine has grown to levels overnight they didn’t expect for many years, leaving the industry rushing to open call centers and signing doctors on as care givers across the planet.
A CES 2021 panel addressed this growth on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.
The Rise of Telemedicine
“For digital health we often think of the pandemic of the rise of telemedicine, but it’s more than that,” said Amy Abernathy, principal deputy commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. “It’s the pairing of telemedicine with remote sensors and the ability to communicate that back to a physician. Secondly, not only was data important to how we manage the pandemic, but getting and processing the data was the real trick.”
Health care professionals, along with public health officials, scrambled nationwide to gather consistent and accurate data on the true state of Covid-19 in the U.S. Data had to come from every hospital, every clinic, every health center and every lab in the nation.
Different places shared different standards from hospital to hospital and state to state. This presented a mountainous challenge to healthcare professionals.
“The pandemic taught us a lot about innovation in real time and learning from those innovations would work over time,” Abernethy said. “I think there’s many different ways that consumers and health care professionals are all partners in a pandemic. The real lesson is about collaboration and communication.”
Bumps in the Road
Dr. Alex Garza, chief community health officer of SSM and head of the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, reiterated similar concerns. While there were difficulties all along, the vaccine has presented a unique set of challenges due to a lack of central processing at the federal level.
“Tracking the cold chain, supply interruptions, distribution struggles – there’s been a few bumps in the road and there’s no sense in trying to explain those away,” Garza said. “There are a number of challenges. In the beginning it was how do we get our vaccine and when? How will we store it? How will we get it distributed?”
The next question, he said, and possibly the most difficult, is to understand why some people do not want the vaccination.
“There’s not been a major bottleneck, but there are a bunch of minor bottlenecks that we have had and will have to work through,” he said.
The Need for a Centralized Response
Dr. David Rhew, Chief Medical Officer & VP of Global Healthcare for Microsoft, stressed the difficulty that not having a centralized response created for healthcare professionals nationwide.
“One of the things we’ve learned during the pandemic is there is a role to having a centralized response and there has to be some direction around that,” Rhew said. “We have to adopt common standards and then we follow them. Now with vaccines we’re facing the same questions.”
Garza said that at the local level those struggles had been quite real.
“Data flowing in from labs and such was coming in fax machines and stuff like that,” he said.
Many vendors at CES 2021 brought new medical solutions of all varieties centering on healthcare at home or telemedicine technologies.
One thing is for certain, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed medical technologies and regulatory advancements forward by many years.