Jan Junker, April 11, 2020
The coronavirus currently holds the world in its grip. Curfews, contact bans, and social distancing ensure that the virus does not spread uncontrollably and determine our private everyday life. From an economic point of view, the lockdown lasting several weeks is threatening the existence of many companies on a global scale. The most decisive factor for the further development of the pandemic: the capacity of the health system. Therefore, it is urgently needed to prepare healthcare systems as well as possible for this exceptional situation.
Mitigation and Containment
The coronavirus is a novelty and still quite unknown to medical science. The biggest problem is the exponential speed at which the virus has spread. In addition, the virus has a severe course in about 20% of those infected which, consequently, will need intensive medical care. With an uncontrolled spread of the virus, the healthcare systems will be overstrained very fast (its capacity is shown as a white dotted line in Figure 1). Further, if the health system is beyond its limits (as is the case in Italy, for example) the mortality rate also increases and doctors are faced with decisions that cannot be imposed on a person. This condition has to therefore be prevented at all costs.
Since no vaccine is yet available “containment and mitigation measures are the key public health interventions currently available”. Top priority is to lessen the burden placed on healthcare systems. The hope is that the health system will be stretched to the limit, but certainly not beyond. However, the flatter the curve the longer restrictions will be effective and the longer it will take to achieve necessary immunity.
Economic implications of the pandemic
From an economic point of view, the time frame for the forced lockdown needs to be kept as short as possible. At the moment, there are only prudent forecasts, but they mostly paint a dark picture for businesses around the world. It must be assumed that many companies will go bankrupt and more employees will lose their jobs. That we will face a recession is quite certain, but how can we limit the damage?
By increasing the capacities of the healthcare system, we provide a possibility to achieve herd immunity many times faster and at the same time reduce the risk of overburdening the system and all people involved. This relieves the burden on the economy and could enable a faster return to normal. The following figure shall illustrate this ideal scenario (Note that this is a hypothetical approach).
The bottleneck factors
Now, increasing the capacity of the health system is not the easiest exercise. There are three most critical bottleneck factors for increasing the capacity of the health system during the coronavirus crisis:
Concerning ventilators, production has already been ramped up. It is important in this context that production continues reliably and that there are no unplanned downtimes. In addition, the ventilators, like all other medical equipment, must be thoroughly maintained and serviced in use, even if travel restrictions mean that manufacturers can no longer do this on-site as usual.
With regard to the bed capacity in intensive care units (with all the necessary medical equipment), efforts are already being made to increase it – in many countries, temporary intensive care units are even being set up in stadiums or other free-standing buildings. This bottleneck factor is also very critical but seems to be solvable with appropriate preparation. For example, Germany is currently striving to double its capacity in this area.
However, the best equipment and the highest bed capacity will not help if there is not enough staff with the necessary expertise. So, there is an urgent need to improve the position of the human resources within the healthcare system and to provide them with tools that will increase their capacity.
Remote support with smart glasses as a systematic remedy
While companies such as Coca-Cola HBC, Krones or SIG are already relying on remote support solutions to be able to continue to guarantee food production even in times of increased demand due to the crisis, the use of such innovative solutions in the healthcare sector has so far been very rare.
Even though, telemedicine solutions would support the existing staff in hospitals from home or remotely. Doctors in quarantine retired or from other countries can use their expertise to provide advice – just as if they were at site themselves. Using smart glasses leaves both hands of the nurse or doctor free to care for the patient, while the experts can give instructions from a distance. This helps to speed up the diagnostic process and even less qualified personnel can provide added value in the right place in an emergency. The remote expert involved not only sees exactly and live through the camera what the colleague is doing on-site, but he can also give very specific advice and support. With such remote support calls, not only is talking possible, but visual instructions can also be used to illustrate certain examination procedures more precisely.
In industrial environments, such remote support solutions, whether from Ubimax or one of our market companions, are already being used very successfully and on a large scale. The food industry, in particular, is reacting flexibly to the increased demand resulting from the crisis. Krones, for example, has just doubled the number of smart glasses in combination with our Ubimax solutions. In-house experts maintain beverage filling machines from a distance, so as not to risk downtimes even in times of coronavirus.
Such solutions also offer medical product manufacturers the opportunity to maintain and service their equipment used in the fight against corona from a distance. It is also important on the manufacturer’s side to ensure crisis-proof production of, for example, respirators and other medically necessary items, for example by using remote support. Becton Dickinson, a global medical technology company, is already using the Ubimax remote support solution to optimize the extremely complex manufacturing and maintenance process of its products. Real-time expert advice saves annoying waiting times and frees up resources that were previously used up unnecessarily.
Empowering those at the frontlines
Although telemedicine does not solve all the problems within healthcare, it certainly will support the frontline health workers. Through saving them time, providing guidance, and maintaining equipment our solutions are there for the healthcare system during this challenging time.
The introduction of such a solution does not require a long start-up time. Ubimax’s remote support solutions are ready for use and intuitive to use within hours. Time-consuming training is often obsolete and they can also be used on existing devices. And that is what we need now: Solutions such as these, which can be used without detours in the fight against SARS-CoV-2.