Coronavirus has shattered our world and changed nearly all aspects of our lives. It has also changed our relationship to healthcare. It is slowly becoming a cliché to say that COVID-19 has catalyzed healthcare trends – but nevertheless, it’s true. Everyone in the world has seen what devastating impact healthcare can have on our daily lives and how underfunded healthcare systems depend on the heroic frontline workers, who are holding the walls from falling apart.
The windfall of the era of digital health is unquestionable, but it has always been. The hurdle was the adoption of these changes, for they posed infrastructural, operational and cultural challenges – the latter being probably the most challenging, and, probably, this was the ultimate obstacle in the change.
But the importance of good healthcare systems is now incontestable. And while the pivotal question is still the fight against the virus, leaders around the world should already look at which of these changes should remain permanent and how the entire industry can ultimately build on the learnings and the developments of 2020.
Digital health before the pandemic
In a recent article, we outlined our approach and manifesto on digital health. Since 2009, Dr Bertalan Meskó has been taking a stand for the digital health transformation. On The Medical Futurist website, we feature the latest technologies and how they can be put to use in public health. Take, for example, digital maps. Back in 2017, we wrote about data visualizations and evaluating, monitoring and even predicting health events with this technology. We also featured real-time monitoring of the Ebola epidemic. Or think of artificial intelligence in radiology diagnose and evaluation that was still utopist a couple of years ago. We talked about science fiction-like scenarios and concepts that were hard to grasp for many. Not anymore.
Digital health during COVID-19
The pandemic has brought science fiction down to the ground. We live it, we breathe it, and to move forward we also need to embrace it, too. Upon the first news of a certain virus in China, we were quick to talk about the right use of digital health technologies . Plenty of technologies have suddenly become widely accepted and interesting not only to medical professionals but to the general public as well. Like a hanging fruit that became ripe from one day to the other, technologies and concepts from telemedicine through A.I. monitoring to network medicine, all came together in an attempt to try to know, understand and forecast the virus. Let’s see a few technologies that really stand out from here.
We can’t emphasize enough how important it was when Canadian startup BlueDot rang the bell on a small-scale outbreak in the region of the Chinese Wuhan. Blue Dot used its algorithm to sift through hoards of news reports, airline data, and reports of animal disease outbreaks to detect trends – and was quick to, so to say, connect the dots. Since then, a great amount of research has been going into the possible uses of A.I. in healthcare to analyse, monitor, screen and triage COVID patients; to support hospital infrastructure in resource allocation, or further drug discovery and vaccine development. MIT even developed an A.I.-based voice analyzer tool to identify asymptomatic COVID-19 patients from cough recording. And the list could go on.
Albert-László Barabási is one of network medicine’s pioneers. Studying biological networks to discover patterns and their behavior is the key focus of their research. Their data visualizations have even set the artistic language of such data-driven imaging over the past 20 years worldwide. Their work became more important than ever this past April when the BarabasiLab had a list of promising drugs for testing in human cell lines in an experimental lab in less than 10 days since repurposing their network medicine toolset to find a treatment for COVID-19.
Remote care, a.k.a. telemedicine
Telemedicine has been available for quite a while now, but its breakthrough was undoubtedly due to 2020. From being a far-fetched concept for the care of remote areas, the dire need to protect medical professionals and other patients from the virus made remote technologies skyrocket. Due to the coronavirus, medical visits online and over the phone experienced a never-before-seen surge. From mental health care to emailing prescriptions or school medical certificates for kids – we had known these could exist. But we never expected they could so easily be adopted into our everyday.
At-home lab tests
After remote care, remote testing was next to be a major disruptor. Waiting in lines for your sample to be taken is out of the question. Today, one can have multiple important tests without even leaving the house. The red tape that prevented at-home testing in the past as good as disappeared with COVID. Certain lab tests are much safer at home as these help avoid exposure to the infection.
The pandemic brought light to a trend we discussed before. To reduce the exposure to risks such as an infection, at-home lab tests are coming.
Smartphones, robots, 3D printing and more
Disinfectant robots and drones appeared to reduce the risk for humans. We can all leverage the real power of smartphones with online consultations, mental health care, at-home drug delivery, or even COVID-19 testing; while appreciating the fast-paced printing in 3D to create medical tools, protectors and practically anything else needed when traditional production or supply is scarce and when health institutions are overwhelmed.
This is very uncomfortable. Not just for you – for all of us. Data protection is like when someone farts on a fancy party: everyone knows it’s there. But no one wants anything to do with it. On one hand, we all know sharing data is essential for tracking the virus’ spread. On the other, so many security flaws (and in many countries, probably built-in features) can get you exposed.
We already wrote about the dark side of health trackers: dubious tracking from smartphones and wearables by amoral third parties. Today, we need to understand that there is no digital health without sacrificing a part of our privacy. The advanced technologies cannot improve without our data; without it, they can’t be implemented as part of regular medical care. And COVID-19 has only made things worse.
The post-pandemic era in digital health: what’s next?
No matter how many mistakes are made, we need to think a lot about what is coming. Because the question is not whether we have to live with the pandemic but for how long. You yourself need to become a bit of a forecaster yourself (don’t worry we can guide you on your way).
This will make it easier for everyone to prepare for what is still to come. By drawing scenarios on what might come, you will be better prepared in your professional as well as in your personal life. And don’t worry to be wrong. Just bear in mind what Yoda said: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”
Packaged and processed foods are terrifying
Packaged and processed foods are terrifying
It’s nearly impossible to keep up with which ingredients are safe to eat and which ones cause some kind of harm.
The food industry and respectively lobby groups spend millions of dollars each year lobbying elected officials, in the hopes of shaping dietary #policy and guidelines for American consumers. In 2020, food group’s spent almost $27 million lobbying Congress.
When the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee advocate for eating less #meat in 2015, various groups in the meat lobby took umbrage and lobbied Congress. Unfortunately, the recommendations were never approved.
Our #foods are laden with additives that are meant to enhance their flavor, color and shelf #life which research has shown is bad for people to consume. Recently, we came across a 2019 article about a blogger, who researched the differences in the ingredients listed on food labels between the United States and the United Kingdom.
It’s shocking to see how many ingredients that are present in US food products, are simply not allowed in other jurisdictions.
Singled out brands such as some of the worst offenders. Artificial dyes are very commonly found in Americans’ food products. Although artificially dyes are very common in food products in America, that doesn’t make them safe to eat. It can be believed that U.S. companies continued to sell artificial ingredients laden products because they’re “cheaper to produce” and the companies “ can get away with it.”
This information launched people into action, prompting them to rummage through kitchen cupboards to examine the ingredient lists on the foods that they eat. Two caveats to this are that, generally, eat only healthy foods, which made it difficult to find much of the nasty stuff had read about. And secondly, as mentioned, where ingredient identification requirements are more similar to Europe than those of the US. Still, found a few ingredients that were difficult to pronounce and needed further examination.
Kids want a beautiful graphical box for their breakfast basket, but it contains high-fructose corn syrups, which is used in many processed foods, including sodas and snack items. This can contribute to unwanted calories, leading to weight gain, diabetes and other health conditions. While shopping the other day,I looked closely at some packaged foods I would never buy, like Lucky Charms. In addition to high fructose, Lucky Charms also contained the food coloring agent.
As a food additive it has been proven to cause many different side effects and allergic responses, including migraines, asthma attacks and eczema. In some Americans products, they use others coloring agents that sound even worse. Be wary of additives such as Yellow 5 and 6, Blue 1 and 2, Red 2 and 3, Yellow 5 and 6 and many others. Look up what these ingredients can do to your health. It’s frightening and appalling!.
In sweet pickles, there is sodium benzoate, which may be responsible for hyperactivity in children and if combined with vitamin C, it can be converted into a carcinogen called benzene. Don’t chase down your orange with a diet cooker.
Even sour cream contained an unfriendly additive called Carrageenan, a thickener made out of red seaweed. Some researchers indicated this additive negatively impacts digestive health and may be associated with intestinal ulcers and growths. Foods labelled as healthy alternatives can be very deceiving. Take healthy turkey bacon for instance. It’s not so healthy! It contains Sodium nitrates, which is used a lot in processed meats. Studies show this can increase your risk of heart disease.
As an authority says, it’s a whole lot easier to slap a healthy claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or a carrot, within the result that the most healthy foods in the supermarkets sit in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over cereals like Cocoa Puff and Lucky Charms are screaming their new-found ‘whole-grain goodness’ to the shoppers.”
So, what should we do with all this information? Well, it’s a great endorsement for changing your diet to one with fresh ingredients, especially fruits and vegetables. Consider planting a garden and growing your own produce. And think about generally buying less packaged foods. At the very least, take the time to read the ingredients list before adding something to your grocery cart.
If your mind is set on eating foods that contain unpronounceable ingredients, we suggest you try tomatoes, beans and blueberries.
They contain good things like lycopene (anti inflammatory), magnesium, potassium and many other antioxidants that are beneficial to your health.