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‘Solving the problems of the health industry’: what health tech has done for the coronavirus

Our constantly evolving society relies on advancing technology in every industry – during this pandemic it’s no different. As governments and businesses rush to adapt their existing practices to suit a new COVID-19 world, we’re seeing a rise in reliance on health technology.

There is no doubt in previous years the response to this pandemic would have looked vastly different. The technology of today looks different in comparison to 50, or even 15, years ago.  From the earliest records of prosthetic limbs, to the introduction of electronic medical records, health technology has changed how health professionals, policy makers and communities respond to a health crisis.

We spoke to Deakin University School of Information Technology lecturer Dr Alessio Bonti about the importance of health tech and its impact on our society. Dr Bonti has worked firsthand in creating tools for hospitals for detecting skin cancer. He believes this area of technology is evolving to help strengthen our already varied knowledge in the health field.

What is the health technology?

‘Health tech is that branch of technology dedicated to solving the problems of the health industry, and in general, society at large,’ Dr Bonti says. ‘The health industry has shown us in the last 20 years, that there are plenty of things that we couldn’t imagine even 10 years ago, that now we can.’

Health technology has been expanding since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO Facebook Messenger chatbot was rolled out in April to combat misinformation about COVID-19. The app used a pre-programmed chat bot to make it easier for people to find accurate, up to date information.

Contact tracing apps, including Australia’s COVIDSafe and Singapore’s TraceTogether, helped public health response teams identify and alert potential coronavirus contacts faster than a manual interview process could.

A myriad of health and wellbeing apps were used daily to support people through a time of confusion, loneliness and change. Meditation apps, exercise apps and productivity apps are just some of the types of applications people used to ease the stress of lockdown.

‘Today, technology is about finding insights and making decisions, and making that decision is always a function of the data. Thirty years ago, a doctor could only use the knowledge he would get from interviewing their patient,’ Dr Bonti says.

According to Dr Bonti, these days, a doctor can do research in real time and is able to cross match a case with millions of others around the world with thousands of doctors, to try and find similar patterns. So, in the age of coronavirus, where we’re still learning about how the virus adapts and its long-term effects on people, real-time information sharing is critical to stopping the spread of the disease.

‘Making decisions quickly and better is the major advantage that our global connected world has given us,’ Dr Bonti says.

'Making decisions quickly and better is the major advantage that our global connected world has given us.'

Dr Alessio Bonti,
School of Information Technology, Deakin University

What have we learnt during the pandemic?

The fight against COVID-19 still has a long way to go, and with the support of this technology, Dr Bonti remains optimistic the fight can be won. Technology architects around the world have been working day and night to build new applications that help track individuals, to enable experts to better track the virus through behavioural data.

As communities around the world scrambled to adjust to lockdowns, social distancing requirements and the need to track everyone’s movements, our new COVID-19 normal wouldn’t be possible without technology.

‘We have created tools, hardware, and we have discovered how working from home is now a viable solution, the sheer size of these matters has forced people to reinvent technologies, making the ‘living from distant’ more mundane,’ Dr Bonti says.

Although the sheer extent of the crisis has been nothing but devastating, it has provided the chance for the development of health technology in an environment not yet fully explored. ‘While data analysis to better understand the virus is now common, the use of technology to adapt to our new standards of living has created a huge opportunity for new ideas, ventures and start-ups dedicated to simplifying life.’

The health tech industry has sped up a process that was already under way. ‘The truly digital transformation of businesses has been the greatest opportunity seen in technology in the later years.’

Reflecting on history, Dr Bonti points out that the largest technology developments have come from a time of need.

‘We have the opportunity to enhance our lives and enrich the culture that we already live in. While these times bring disaster and heartache, it provides opportunities for aspiring tech experts to break into the industry and help develop technology to change our lives for the better.’

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Dr Alessio Bonti
Dr Alessio Bonti

Lecturer, School of Information Technology, Deakin University

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