Changes in Dynamics between People and Technology in the Time of Covid-19

This article was written by Dr Rachel Leung, a medical doctor based in Hong Kong.

Coronavirus pandemic has catalyzed transformative changes in healthcare technologies. Social distancing measures to reduce the risk of transmissions has altered conventional medical consultations and clinical procedures, an abundance of information on outbreak updates through various media outlets has overwhelmed the mass public, and the sheer population of Covid-19 patients and non-Covid-19 patients have paralyzed existing medical facilities. Facing unprecedented pressure and unanticipated challenges, rapid agility in applying healthcare technologies and high demand of faith in technology-assisted healthcare services have created unique adaptation and dynamic changes in the relationships between people and technology in healthcare.

Maintaining primary care services in the midst of the pandemic was essential, as vast majority of the public still required regular medical services. However, due to the overloaded public health system, many were unable to seek and receive the support they need. This catalyzed the transition to telemedicine, partially substituting the conventional face-to-face consultations. For instance, WeDoctor united physicians across China to provide teleconsultation to alleviate healthcare burdens in the community health centers. WeDoctor also expanded its services internationally to channel clinical information exchange across global networks of physicians, changing relationships between patients, healthcare professionals and healthcare technologies.

In secondary care, safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the elderly population group became even more critical, as they account for a large proportion of mortalities among Covid-19 cases. Technologies in form of videoconferencing, remote drug deliveries and robot-assisted care can serve as mediators to providing care for the elderlies, while reducing the risk of infection and transmission. Due to Covid-19 outbreak, many eldercare centers sent their residents home to their families. To ensure smooth transition for homecare for the families with elders, IZhaoHu, an elderly care service provider, piloted an online eldercare training program for family members to provide medical care services to elderly at home. IZhaohu’s Cheetah remote elderly care system, through IZhaohu app and its sensors, connected with its clients and provided real-time support for the families and the elderlies at home. Elders, and especially their family members who are not familiar with caring for their elder family members, became empowered through using digital technology.

The relationship between the public and tertiary care using digital technology was also strengthened during the pandemic. The large number of moderate to severe cases of Covid-19 patients demanded rapidly scalable solutions to provide timely tertiary care in hospital settings. However, shortage in medical personnel and specialists coupled with risks of transmission hindered timely and adequate care and service for Covid-19 patients. In the case of United Imaging, the company pioneered remote radiological services, such as its Remote Diagnostics Platform, Emergency Radiology Department. Through the use of AI and Medical Cloud Network, United Imaging’s technology allowed medical personnel to perform radiological imaging investigation remotely and collect quality radiological images for diagnosis and patient monitoring. The whole process from the image capturing, data collection and analysis, to clinical diagnosis and disease monitoring by nationwide radiologists, were conducted in a contactless setting via remote sensor and image recognition technologies.

From offline to online, and from primary care to tertiary care, multi-faceted changes have taken place in the relationship between people and healthcare technologies. The increase in adaptation of technology-enabled health services in China may be attributed to its decade long rise in technology adoption in its population, as well as the large technological reserve in companies dedicated to research and development for of healthcare reform. The transformative changes in the way people interact with healthcare technologies has brought and will continue to bring forth long lasting impact on health systems.

This article is developed with key inputs from the Tackling Covid-19 Pandemic through Integrating Digital Technology and Public Health: Linking Experiences in China to the World report which is supported by The Rockefeller Foundation.

List of company mentioned

  1. WeDoctor-
  2. Izhaohu
  3. United Imaging
  4. WHO –
  5. The Rockefeller Foundation –