Predicting the Next Pandemic, Responding with Emerging Technologies

Predicting the Next Pandemic, Responding with Emerging Technologies COVID 19…

March 04, 2022

Predicting the Next Pandemic, Responding with Emerging Technologies

COVID 19 provided a real-time laboratory for assessing emerging technologies and gleaning insights that will inform  government’s response to the next pandemic. More important, perhaps, COVID has been a proving ground for next-generation IT tools, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, capable of capturing data and gleaning insights that improve the public health. Those advances will endure long after the pandemic has fizzled into a historical footnote.

 A New View of Old Health IT Tools

The scale of the pandemic and the health-care response to it has challenged perceptions of traditional protocols. Consider diagnostics. Until recently, most people, including doctors, thought of diagnostic tools – blood tests, imaging, blood pressure readings – as something used in clinical settings to obtain actionable information to inform treatment. The pandemic provided a lens through which to see diagnostics as a tool for population care.

“What become obvious is that we need to use diagnostic tests to generate data that can be aggregated and analyzed at scale to power public-health decision making,” said Sara Brenner, Chief Medical Officer for In Vitro Diagnostics and Associate Director for Medical Affairs in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, FDA.


Retrofitting for Innovation

The pandemic exposed the challenge of extracting value from diagnostic information when relying on a legacy “public health system that wasn’t designed to handle extremely high volumes of data from tests distributed everywhere,” Brenner said. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of innovation, from advancing traditional hardware devices found in labs to tests used in point-of care-settings. Those tests are being integrate with software – a game changer with regard to how you can harmonize and standardize data at the source.”

To improve population health, we need systems that improve the quality of data collected at the source, ensure data interoperability, convey information on a secure information superhighway, and deploy data receiving systems to power analytics.


Tech is Good Medicine

Use of data and technology in healthcare will continue to grow. In 2020, the number of Medicare telehealth “visits” totaled 52.9 million, a one-year increase of 63-fold. In, 2019 Medicare telehealth visits totaled 840,000.

Emergence of a transformed public health system is an opportunity to fix inequities of the past. “Crowdsourcing data in a way we haven’t before” has made it possible for consumers to go online and access vaccination rates at any nursing facility in the country, said Douglas Jacobs, Senior Advisor to the Director, CMS.

Architects of new systems must nonetheless be careful not to perpetuate biases that in the past have led to inequitable access to care. “There are gaps in equity,” said Cmdr. Heather Dimeris, Director Telehealth Advancement, HHS. “Some rural areas don’t have access to high-speed internet.


Thought Leadership