2020—what a year! In what’s been the deadliest health crisis we’ve seen for some time and hospitals around the world nearing the point of collapse, progress of technology-driven change was diverted to an ‘all hands on deck’ solution for COVID-19. But despite that, the world still turned. Infections and diseases still required research and development, technologies were taken from concept to production, and healthcare as we know it has been put to the ultimate test.
So, what does the future hold for tech-based solutions after a global pandemic forces its hand. Technology development is critical in the modern medical field and with a vaccine for COVID-19 now being rolled out (with wide-scale results pending), healthcare professionals will be looking for answers to a simple question—what’s next?
Past success means exciting future for new vaccines and treatments
Despite the solid focus on COVID-19, in 2020 there was still 53 new drugs approved by the FDA including an oral hormone therapy for prostate cancer, the first adjuvant therapy for lung cancer, and a new treatment for Zaire ebolavirus infection. On the other side of the Atlantic, the World Health Organisation continued its Prequalification Programme which, with vaccination, smallpox is no longer a threat and polio is on its way out. Plus, 86% of all children now receive protection against diseases like measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and hepatitis B. The constant monitoring of trends and signals keeps the world on top of these global threats and 2021 will be no different. What they’ll need to focus on is research funding, making efficient work of clinical trials and creating a fast approvals process so we can stamp out threats quick. We certainly don’t need another coronavirus outbreak. The good news is that COVID-19 proved that science can work fast under pressure and produce viable defences when needed. And there’s no doubt that the learnings from the ongoing pandemic will be studied and applied to modelling for future infection outbreaks.
The new normal of virtual care and remote medicine
The concept of ‘online’ isn’t breaking news but using it effectively and safely in the medical world, and making it available as ‘routine healthcare’, has become business critical. In Canada, back in March 2020, the SRPC identified virtual support as a solution to its rural medical program, and now you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere that won’t at least provide a phone consult to avoid in-person care unless necessary. Technology is also offering up robotics as a rising (potential) superstar for nursing support—AI can take care of the more tedious functions like food and drink provision in wards, supply and disposal of materials, and even tracking people—allowing professionals to increase their healthcare capacity.
With a global society now fluctuating in and out of lockdown, the risk to healthcare professionals is at an all-time high because of the demands on PPE availability, but virtual care reduces that risk. In the United Kingdom, policies are already in place that help the NHS prevent the spread of disease and outline how and when to use remote medicine, so a solid virtual care solution will only strengthen the system. And it’s never been clearer that funding for start-ups will be essential to the worlds of genomic data, AI, specialist equipment development, and world-class healthcare facilities so that patients have access to reliable healthcare treatment and management options from both their hospital bedside and their laptops.
The role of genomics in guiding routine healthcare
Because genomics technology has a home in a number of fields—like drug development, animal welfare, food production and environmental branches—lack of innovation can be costly. COVID-19 has shown us that preparedness is key when it comes to ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of the global population flourishes. And it’s no surprise to see the ‘Genome UK future of healthcare’ report has solid strategies in place which consider how best to improve diagnoses and guide everyday treatment development. The goal: advancing genomics so that it can improve routine healthcare for everyone, and deliver preventative medicine at scale.
Think about it: better imaging, pathology and next-gen super-advanced tech used in the field on a ‘go hard and go early’ basis will have a huge impact on gaining a detailed understanding of illness and disease, and fully understanding the human genetic code. With constant monitoring they’ll have greater impact on the advancement of genomics, they’ll personalise medicine, and revolutionize healthcare, but it’ll require research and development at elite levels to truly make a difference. The result? An exciting way forward for diagnosis and treatment of patients.