Scientists at the Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC), based at Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh campus, have recently developed a new 3D-printed Covid-19 testing swab, which can collect sufficient viral material from the back of the nose — without the need of a throat swab. The nasopharynx 3D-printed swabs provide a less intrusive experience compared to traditional cotton bud swabs, cutting testing time, reducing anxiety and minimising discomfort for patients.
In the UAE, engineers from RIT Dubai have created an innovative IoT-based Covid band that offers a solution for the constant monitoring of Covid cases. Using different types of sensors and IoT to continuously track and monitor relevant data — distance, temperature and pulse rate — in a population throughout the day, this band can automatically report any detected anomalies to health officials.
The urgency and magnitude of the Covid crisis has been a catalyst for triggering breakthrough research and innovation in healthcare, driving governments and care providers to accelerate the adoption of novel approaches to patient care.
World over, as the pace of vaccinations go up dramatically in many countries with a corresponding fall in the caseload of infections, public health experts say this is a crucial moment for swiftly identifying the variants of Covid-19 that infected people harbour.
Indeed, many experts worldwide have underscored the importance of contact tracing as one of the keys to eventually controlling Covid-19 — suggesting the rapid growth of technologies such as a Covid diagnostic test that also simultaneously detects the prevalent variants and helps boost epidemiological surveillance in a particular geographic area.
According to Dr Ted Long of NYC Covid-19 Test & Trace Corps, contact tracers are now reaching 97 per cent of cases in New York. “It’s going to be the summer of outbreak hunting,” he told ABC News.
Accelerating tech transformation
From testing and diagnostics to surveillance, remote monitoring and evaluation of intervention of patients, tech solutions are being deployed extensively to support pandemic management worldwide. Scientists, researchers and engineers have leveraged smartphones, online datasets, connected devices, and advances in cloud-based solutions, blockchain, AI, robotics and machine learning to improve the quality and access of healthcare services for Covid patients.
Over the past 18 months, the healthcare sector in the UAE has undergone an unprecedented period of challenge and change but the industry’s response has demonstrated its resilience and ability to offer patient-centred care through new channels. From digital epidemiology tools, chatbot helpers, and rapid-response test kits to remote patient monitoring and telemedicine tech, care providers have rolled out technology solutions at an impressive speed to help stem the tide of Covid-19. They have also stepped up their investments in digital health capabilities to optimise operations.
AI-led algorithms helped us to identify patients who are at high risk for ICU admissions and have a risk of mortality, so we could provide them with timely and appropriate care.
While the immediate focus has been to respond to the pandemic effectively, the health systems are also increasingly looking for ways to thrive in the new normal and offer more integrated and better connected healthcare services. Many healthcare service providers have started collaborating with tech companies and research organisations to build an ecosystem that supports innovation in products, services, processes, and business and delivery models.
Tech-enabled optimisation of health operations
“The pandemic forced us to look at things in a different way,” says Ahmad Yahya, CIO/COO at American Hospital Dubai. “Clinicians suddenly understood that change had to arrive quickly and it made us a lot more agile and think outside the box.”
American Hospital Dubai has entered into a partnership with the US-based healthcare and information technology company Cerner to devise a Covid-19 model on patient mortality and ICU admission prediction, focusing on available risk identifiers.
“AI-led algorithms helped us to identify patients who are at high risk for ICU admissions and have a risk of mortality, so we could provide them with timely and appropriate care,” Yahya says.
When the pandemic struck, Aster DM Healthcare introduced screening tools in partnership with Microsoft to easily and virtually screen potential Covid patients. “It was driven by diagnostic questions, chatbots and intelligent systems,” says Brandon Rowberry, its CEO for Digital Health.
IoMT devices automatically push data to doctors from around the world to work and follow up with patients. Through these devices, doctors could see the live patient position, assess heart rate, and conduct ECG.
Aster DM Healthcare also launched the electronic intensive care unit (eICU) facilities to allow for remote monitoring of ICU patients and provide an additional layer of critical care service. “This is particularly important during a huge spike in Covid cases, allowing critically ill patients to gain access to specialists.”
Its Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices also helped the organisation streamline patient care during the pandemic. “These devices automatically push data to doctors from around the world to work and follow up with patients. Through these devices, doctors could see the live patient position, assess heart rate, and conduct ECG.”
Telehealth expands access to essential health services
While virtual healthcare has been around in the UAE for nearly a decade, the adoption of this service has gained traction during Covid-19, with residents increasingly seeking care by connecting with their physicians electronically than waiting in emergency rooms amid the virus outbreak.
Hospitals have also noticed a strong uptake of home healthcare initiatives that often have embedded virtual services.
Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres, a vertical of Aster DM Healthcare, introduced a number of new tech-driven programmes to allow for greater access to care during the pandemic and beyond.
“Through our Lab@Home, patients can do their PCR and other tests without having to leave their home. We also introduced several home healthcare programmes and tech to help patients virtually access doctors, nurses and physiotherapists from the comfort of home. Our virtual care or telemedicine platform was launched during Covid and now it gives full online access to patients and doctors,” says Rowberry.
Connected care has become a part of the delivery model for Covid-care in the UAE, says Dr Sawsan Humaida, Specialist — Internal Medicine at Bareen International Hospital — MBZ City.
“In this light, all departments in Bareen International Hospital — from medical practitioners to diagnostics, pharmacy, IT and call centre — come together to deliver a robust continuum of care using relevant technologies in diagnosis, treatment, monitoring, and management of Covid-19 cases – all in the best interest of the community that we serve.”
“In this light, all departments in Bareen International Hospital — from medical practitioners to diagnostics, pharmacy, IT and call centre — come together to deliver a robust continuum of care using relevant technologies in diagnosis, treatment, monitoring, and management of Covid-19 cases.
Bareen International Hospital has also started offering telemedicine services to patients through the Department of Health’s remote care technology since the pandemic hit. “The platform has allowed our doctors to communicate with patients and help them through medical issues remotely. Given the restrictions, we have seen a positive response from the general public in using telemedicine as vital means of consultation.”
Hospitals are also working closely with local governments, health authorities and academia to provide data and support research related to Covid-19.
Aster DM Healthcare, for example, has partnered with Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Unilabs to contribute an extensive amount of data that goes towards the UAE’s efforts to track the pandemic.
“This data, among other things, is being used in the tracing studies to learn more about the patterns of spread and virality of the coronavirus,” says Rowberry. ■