As an over-extended UK healthcare ecosystem grapples with Covid-19, medical professionals are looking to technology to help solve some massive logistical problems in providing care to a nervous nation. Amid these challenges, technology providers are stepping up, offering innovative solutions and even free access to platforms, to help the vital work of the UK’s healthcare professionals continue.
A system on the brink
Hospital beds were already at record lows late last year as NHS struggled to meet patient needs. More than 17,000 beds had been cut over the past seven years in an unrelenting political fight that’s left the system with a dangerous deficit, and no funding or apparent resolve to fix the problem. An added strain, the ongoing nursing shortage means the NHS continues to fill personnel gaps with less qualified people to shore up flagging staff levels.
Now, a surge in UK coronavirus cases is adding pressure on the system, as “community spread” becomes more prevalent. Many institutions, including London’s Kings College Hospital, have banned visitors to some wards in an effort to slow the spread of infections. Meanwhile, UK hospitals are running out of supplies and protective equipment (PPE) for staff.
“PPE is about to become a major issue,” said one unidentified NHS manager speaking to The Independent. “This is going to be the game changer and nobody wants to address the problem. Our masks are made in China and they aren’t about to let any stock leave the country. Of our key PPE lines three are now unavailable for the rest of March and who knows when from there.”
The situation is dire. Yet there is help coming from the non-medical sector, as technology companies step up to help the UK face the current crisis.
Tech steps into the breach
Physicians in the UK and elsewhere are using videoconferencing to enable remote diagnosis and monitoring of coronavirus patients, helping ease the burden at medical facilities and keep the spread of the virus in check.
“Telemedicine is proving to be an increasingly valuable tool in their medical arsenal, helping to reduce the spread of infection by providing first-line defense,” explains Dr. Samant Virk. “Much like it has done for doctors assessing and treating patients for influenza—where its use has hit an all-time high—televisits can help doctors combat a coronavirus outbreak, even reaching patients in remote locations who have limited access to care.”
Patient care isn’t the only use of video conferencing in the fight against Covid-19. More and more companies and organizations are transitioning to remote work. Schools and universities are moving classes online, and NGOs and community preparedness organizations in particular have a vital need to stay connected.
“Harsh times require out-of-the-box solutions,” says Dominika Paciorkowska, the managing director of webinar and videoconferencing company ClickMeeting. “Nobody knows where the coronavirus outbreak will go from here and for how long countries, businesses, and educational institutions will need to be in an emergency planning mode.”
ClickMeeting enables these organizations to host online meetings and run live or automated training webinars, even host virtual events with up to 1,000 attendees. The company is also offering healthcare workers free access to the ClickMeeting platform. “Our ultimate goal is to support those who have the greatest responsibility for making sure that the pandemic [won’t expand to] disastrous proportions,” says Simon Grabowski, ClickMeeting’s CEO.
This helps public health and safety organizations keep teams up to date, train them on new protocols in real time, and stay productive when deployed to critical needs areas.
Technology is also making it possible for healthcare workers to monitor quarantined patients, through innovative wearable devices that provide instant data on patient stats, without adding to in-hospital patient load.
According to VivaLINK, a California-based connected healthcare solutions provider, Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center has been using a continuous temperature sensor to help reduce the spread of coronavirus in China. The sensor is applied to the patient and sends real-time information and sensor readings to health professionals.
“VivaLNK is proud to help fight infectious diseases such as the Coronavirus,” said Jiang Li, CEO of VivaLNK. “The world will never be rid of diseases, but more effective methods of prevention and treatment can be achieved through technological advances.”
Technology thrives in unchartered territory
In many ways, tech companies are used to working on the edge of what’s possible, finding creative solutions as the need arises and leveraging their tech acumen to make amazing things possible.
For the UK healthcare industry, and the world at large, these advances are giving these front-line workers at least a fighting chance.