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Health + Tech | Innovating Through The COVID-19 Pandemic

Doug Halsall, Chairman and CEO, AIS

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has resulted in many opportunities for the health technology industry. Our usually technophobic population has been embracing technology more and more since the start of the restrictions due to the spread of COVID-19. This is understandable since people have been advised to shelter in place and remain quarantined if they have symptoms of the illness. They have to somehow access healthcare while at home.

Telemedicine in this environment has taken off. The previously slow pace of acceptance has changed dramatically to being so in demand that persons are actively seeking out solutions rather than the providers trying hard to convince them of this alternative. It is great to see the technology being used so widespread to provide what is, right now, a very important service. This is at least one positive amid the despair the disease has caused many of us.

The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) has implemented several measures to accommodate staff and patients in light of the need to reduce physical contact. This includes remote access to care. The UHWI is already far ahead of most of the Caribbean hospitals with the implementation of the Health Information Management System (HIMS), which has led to several areas of its operations already being digitised. The process is ongoing and should see the entire hospital fully digitised. During this COVID-19 outbreak, it plans to use a telemedicine videoconferencing system in addition to having patients call in via telephone to speak to a doctor.

Telemedicine is not the only focus of health technology at this time. Several things have had to be done outside the norm to respond to an emerging and not fully understood situation. As Jamaicans say, we have been seeing a lot of ‘tun-yuh-hand-mek-fashion’ types of innovation.

Several tracking tools have also been developed so that governments can have a better idea of the spread and prevalence of the virus. I must point out here that most health information management systems can already provide this with inter-operability and public-private sector linkages. However, these independent tracking technologies are still a plus, given that many countries or health systems are not yet at the point where they are able to implement widespread health technology and may be far from full digitisation.

Local software company Gizzada designed and donated a tool to the Ministry of Health to facilitate the documentation of individuals who are in quarantine in public-health facilities and other government-designated quarantine centres. Many Jamaicans have stepped up and contributed in many ways to this pandemic, and I’m happy to say that this is how we generally are as a people.

I was very heartened to see my fellows Jamaicans take on this virus with their own innovations. Persons have got very creative and created small businesses, making and distributing face masks, for example. Now that the Government has made it a requirement for citizens to wear these in public places, the action of these savvy entrepreneurs is very much appreciated. Medical-grade face masks were one of the things that quickly became scarce when the virus began spreading across countries.

I expect that the post-COVID-19 technology environment will be a little different, with new measures we adopted during this time becoming more normalised. Telemedicine, for example, should become mainstream because it has so many population-wide benefits beyond COVID-19.

- Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Send feedback to doug.halsall@gmail.com.
Published: Sunday | May 10, 2020 | 12:14 AM