Lesson learned from Coronavirus: five issues on digital health

The unprecedented crisis caused by the pandemic has triggered an acceleration of the spread of new digital tools.

  1. Initiative medicine or pro-active medicine. For the first time in Italy we applied, on a national scale, initiative medicine, specifically for the management of patients and Covid-19 suspects. We have developed ad hoc solutions, tested the use of apps and new tools for communication with patients, such as automatic telephone recall. We have been able to verify the effectiveness of this model of medicine and understand how digital technologies are indispensable to reach and manage a large number of patients. There is also a further positive aspect: in some healthcare companies someone is reflecting on the possibility of extending these tools for the management of chronic diseases.
  2. Telemedicine. The need to assist patients at home, avoiding physical contact, has meant that telemedicine has suddenly become a practice accepted by healthcare professionals and institutions. Doctors have discovered the usefulness and ease of performing television and teleconsultations. Healthcare companies are beginning to equip themselves with tele-health solutions and services.
  3. Symptoms checker and chat-bot. The importance of collecting data on symptoms and providing information on them has determined, for the first time in Italy, the introduction by public health, symptoms checkers, both developed with apps and chat-bots. This is an interesting approach that brings together the need for patients to have information on a disease and the need of public health to collect data and direct people to a correct care path.
  1. Health surveillance and clinical dashboards. The pandemic has turned the spotlight on virologists and epidemiologists who, before the crisis, had few tools and relied mainly on available information flows. It was finally understood the importance of developing clinical surveillance systems and the need to have a basic info-structure able to feed them. This pre-requisite also highlighted the differences between the regions.
  2. Underestimating privacy is a serious mistake. Even in emergency situations and in the presence of serious health risks, one should not underestimate the fear, on the part of many people, of seeing the protection and confidentiality of their data compromised. The case of Immuni, beyond the discussions on the accuracy and reliability of bluetooth as a technology to measure the distance between people, has been emblematic: a wrong communication (in my opinion) and a transversal instrumentalization, together with a certain schizophrenia of Italians, who do not care at all to use social and free tools, such as email, maps, etc., has meant that many people will not download and use an app that could be useful to them.
  • The question that many people ask is whether this change can be considered irreversible or whether there is a risk that, once the crisis is over, we may return to the previous situation.
  • In my opinion this is a real, lasting change, which will have a significant impact on the choices and investments in the coming years.

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