The coronavirus crisis broke out last December in China and in little more than 90 days, it has changed all our lives and habits. This is at an individual level. At the global level, the pandemic constitutes a watershed moment in human history. There have been other pandemics, but without its extreme capacity for contagion, its high mortality rate, or its daily rate of new cases, which are measured in three-digit figures.
Many countries all over the world are fighting against the spread of the virus, implementing a quarantine based on social isolation to prevent any contact with the outside world and to reduce the number of cases. The daily professional activity of millions of people has changed and given rise to unique circumstances: professionals who are unable to continue working, others who can work from home thanks to remote telecommuting systems, and yet others whose professions are essential to keep production systems running and are therefore not confined.
However, there are groups that are not only not isolated, but have been working day and night to win this war: professionals in the health sector; doctors, nurses, pharmacists, midwives, psychologists, physiotherapists, etc. They have been branded as heroes by the people and the media, heroes who have dedicated body and soul to fighting this pandemic at all costs, and are consequently more unprotected and exposed to infection. This is where technology once again becomes a key weapon in the fight against COVID-19. By implementing remote medical assistance, teleconsultation and self-triage in a scenario where 80% of patients do not require hospitalization, we help to flatten the curve. Our goal is two-fold. First, we must ensure that sick patients can be treated at home, remotely and safely. Second, we must work to reduce the pressure on the healthcare system and decrease the number of critical patients who require hospitalization and care in the most overtaxed areas of the system such as ICUs. Another important consequence of applying these self-triage systems is to increase the number of healthcare professionals who can work around the pandemic.
Self-triage and teleconsultation platforms
Coronavirus does not affect all patients equally. While it is more lethal in people over 65, there are a large number of people who experience mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. They may continue to lead a normal life and in doing so, inadvertently propagate the virus.
The need for more hospital workers in many cities and countries all over the world has led to the closing of specialty centers. Their professionals have been transferred to new or makeshift field hospitals or as are sent as reinforcements to specific hospitals. This relocation leads to the neglect of patients with previous chronic pathologies, who would otherwise be monitored in these centers. They are now ignored or made to visit hospitals that are already overcrowded, thus increasing the risk of infection.
Teleconsultation platforms make it possible for health organizations to manage the entire patient care process for those with mild or moderate symptoms. It ranges from early identification to the remote monitoring of patients’ health as well as other needs based on their condition. The sooner a probable infection is detected and a continuous clinical follow-up conducted, the greater the chances that it will not become critical.
These platforms provide people with self-triage forms so they may receive suggestions from the organization based on their symptoms. They may also be automatically included in remote follow-up processes. When dealing with elderly patients or people with low technological skills, triage may be conducted over the telephone by an operator, thus maximizing the number of people that can be reached.
Remote follow-up sessions with social workers, psychologists and other professionals may be used in addition to clinical monitoring for a thorough assessment for different groups of patients.
Patients with prior chronic pathologies who have not been infected can also use these platforms to continue their clinical monitoring without visiting a hospital and risking infection.
As patients and professionals do not have to share a physical location, we can supplement the organization’s capacity for medical attention with other groups of healthcare professionals such as doctors from other autonomous regions, retired professionals, and even healthcare professionals who have been infected with mild symptoms but can continue to attend patients from their homes.
Another important point is that these platforms must be able to collect and use the information generated so that organizations can monitor the pandemic in real time and check whether health resources have been allocated properly. When this is over and we have defeated the pandemic, these organizations will have an initial tele-skills infrastructure that they can subsequently build upon. The goal? To improve their capacities under regular conditions and of course, to be better prepared for possible future crises.