Leveraging Technology to Prevent Pandemics

During the winter and spring of 2020, an event of global importance unfolded: the COVID-19 disease swept out of China and spread to virtually every corner of the world. The highly contagious disease overwhelmed national healthcare systems, leading to the shutdowns of entire economies.

In the early months of the pandemic, the primary challenge faced by all nations, including the United States, was testing. No plan to combat the disease could be formulated until healthcare authorities had a good idea of how many people were infected.

Because one of the very first symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever, many nations made extensive use of temperature screening checkpoints. These were set up at airports, outside apartment buildings, and even at stores. But these methods were imperfect. Authorities used industrial-grade infrared thermometers to measure the temperature of people, leading in inaccurate readings. Many researchers also doubted the effectiveness of airport screening.

As an acclaimed futurist and healthcare presenter, I have proposed a solution: the constituent healthcare operating system (CHOS). As I reveal in my upcoming book The Healthcare Mandate, the core of the system is a personal, ear-worn digital biomonitor, which provides a detailed, real-time picture of an individual’s current health. Aside from taking four primary vital signs—body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate—it also connects to other body sensors, providing streaming predictive data to a central module. The module is accessible to the individual’s primary care physician and relevant specialists.  

Streaming the individual’s data in real-time to their healthcare provider serves two purposes:

1. The primary care physician no longer needs to rely on the individual to self-report symptoms of an emerging disease. The physician sees them in real-time.

2. In terms of identifying infectious diseases such as COVID-19, the individual’s CHOS can provide the earliest possible warning of a fever, a change in breathing pattern, or a cough.

For example, in March 2020 it would have been incredibly valuable for US healthcare authorities to know in real-time who among our nation’s 327 million people were showing those three symptoms. Science fiction? No. The technology is within reach.

Imagine millions of individuals, all plugged into a comprehensive digital healthcare system. When another virulent disease like COVID-19 breaks out—which we know it eventually will—then we will have no need for inaccurate, clumsy, and time-consuming airport or roadside tests. The data will come streaming in from millions of constituents. Massive disruption to our economy by shutting down public businesses including theaters, schools, and sporting events may not be necessary because we’ll know exactly who has the disease.

The CHOS system is a simple, elegant solution to the problem of managing the outbreak of infectious diseases. The technology is within reach. All that is needed is the Nation's will to make it a reality.

Nicholas Webb is one of the top innovation and healthcare futurist speakers in the world and a number one best-selling author. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor and the Chief Innovation Officer at WesternU.

Nick Webb: Bestselling Author, Futurist, Management Consultant, Innovation Expert, and Inventor

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