How to use tech to fight pandemics

Sunil Rajguru
New Update

Bird Flu. Swine Flu. SARS. MERS. Ebola… Potential pandemics are coming with great regularity and this could soon be the new normal. When Covid-19 burst upon the global scene, initially the medical industry seemed totally ill-equipped to meet the challenge. It is high time that hospitals embrace all the latest emerging technologies and go to the next level. There are many such options to choose from…


Big Data: The wealth of data that the global medical industry has is unprecedented. However there are too many issues as to why Big Data hasn’t gone forward. For one, a lot of it remains to be digitized and hasn’t been formatted properly. Then there are access and privacy issues. To view a single document you may require the permission of the patient or hospital or both. It is a highly tricky issue.

But that’s the beauty of Big Data. We don’t need the knowledge of the individual person behind an individual piece of data. If all the hospitals of India pooled just the Big Data part of their operations and then all the countries did the same, we would just be left with important trends that would help us understand where a disease originated, how fast it was going, what effect geography and population clusters had on it along with the role of climactic conditions.

Artificial Intelligence: First you need data and predictive analytics. After that AI and Machine Learning would go a long way in organizing that information, understanding it and giving both long-term and short-term suggestions. When given a barrage of data related to X-rays, lesions, all sorts of tests, then AI has been known to give a prognosis that really helps the doctors. Nobody says that the AI will replace the doctor and but can be a great help. That’s why many people like to call AI as Augmented Intelligence. When an epidemic first breaks out, the medical system is simply swamped and there is a great shortage of manpower. AI can step in and look at a multitude of cases simultaneously.


Medical Chatbots: When Covid-19 first started alarming people, there was a great amount of misinformation that was spread on social media. It becomes impossible to counter all that. But what if global authorities managed the data in real-time, used medical expert opinion and AI to upgrade chatbots on the new scenario? People could simply go online and converse with medical chatbots and get their basic doubts cleared. While doctors look at complex cases, it is always the basic details that fall prey to fake news. That’s something that a chatbot could easily take care of. With advances in Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, this whole process is highly effective.

Medical robots: You can have a medical robot at the hospital reception that will do the basic screening and give information to visitors. Robots can also do basic tasks and bring down human touch. Apart from surgical robots, you have germ-zapping robots and therapeutic robots for mental issues. Robots are handy for moving heavy objects all over the hospital. All this contributes to reducing the workload on hospital staff during emergencies.

Advance Screening: We can have facial screening (there are ways of knowing if a person is ill with certain symptoms) and temperature detectors at the entrance of hospitals, airports, bus and train stations. This will give advance information to the authorities. During epidemics like Covid-19, you will have early alarm bells ringing all over.

GPS tracking:
Imagine if a patient with a highly contagious disease collapses or just refuses to co-operate with the authorities. You would simply have a look at his smartphone and find which all places he has visited recently. You could even find all the mobile phones he was in the vicinity of and send them SMSes alerting the users that they were near someone with a contagious disease!

Government monitoring: If the governments of the world have access to all of the above and also access to the personal data of its citizens, it can monitor, track and warn the relevant parties. Privacy is a myth today and it is better to use technology and tracking for good use. In India itself, authorities had a harrowing time monitoring tens of thousands of potential Covid-19 carriers and ensuring that they are in quarantine. You can come out with apps that will be handy during epidemics or fill online forms that will serve as verifiable passes if you have to go outside for an emergency during a curfew.

A lot of the above has already been implemented somewhere or the other. All we now need is a global integrated approach.

covid-19 pandemic