As COVID-19 continues to cause social and economic havoc around the world, many people are now having to deal with heightened levels of stress, fear and anxiety. From a health and wellness perspective, they have a multitude of questions. Am I healthy? Can I trust this source of information? What should I do to avoid getting sick? Which doctor should I go to? Is it safe for me to go out? What are the latest guidelines in my area? Are my family members OK?
But every cloud has a silver lining: “Connected healthcare app” is a project we’ve been working on since the beginning of March, several weeks before the nationwide lockdown was implemented here in Germany. When we started to brainstorm the idea, it never crossed our minds that knowing our families were fine and healthy would become such an integral part of our regular check-ins with them. As the pandemic worsened, however, this became our daily reality. Connecting with others in an increasingly isolated world has now become an important part of our lives. How do most of us do this? Overwhelmingly, we use our smartphones to connect with our loved ones and the outside world in general.
So wouldn’t it be cool if we could develop a mobile app that would allow people to check in with others, monitor their health situation and reassure them that we’re in good physical shape too?
Let’s imagine the following scenario: Hermann is a salesman living in Hamburg. Due to the pandemic, he now has to work from home. He also has a family to take care of, so ensuring that they’re safe is one of his top priorities. One day, Hermann starts sneezing and appears to be developing a bad cold. He’s not overly worried at this stage ─ like most of us, he’s had many colds before. Rest, lots of water, lemon and honey, maybe some paracetamol ─ that’s what he’s always done before and it’s usually worked. But these aren’t usual circumstances.
With TV, radio and social media all full of warnings about COVID-19, Hermann is afraid he may have somehow contracted the virus. He doesn’t want to infect his wife and son, so he isolates himself in the spare bedroom and focuses on getting better. A couple of days later, he still hasn’t noticed any improvement. So he calls his doctor to tell him about his condition. The doctor tells him to stay at home, to self isolate and to continue monitoring his condition closely.
In this situation, disconnected from health professionals and his immediate family, Hermann doesn’t feel very secure. His mind is racing with questions of the kind I outlined at the top of this article.
Considering the above scenario, our new healthcare app could potentially provide a range of value propositions, from care & guidance to trust & reliability, through to health & safety:
Care & Guidance
- In-app diagnosis: with currently available technologies, it is now feasible to do self-diagnosis directly via smartphone. For example, both Samsung and Philips have developed heart-monitoring apps that allow people to self monitor, thereby reducing cost as primary visits to a doctor or medical centre are no longer required.
- 24/7 medical chatbot: in the near future, smart algorithms will be able to help patients make sense of what they currently access through patient portals. The potential of NLP to do this has already been demonstrated.
- Connection with family members and medical professionals: while connecting to your preferred medical professional ( via telemedicine ) is not a new idea, the solution we are proposing provides the comfort of knowing that help is just a call away. Another feature – and the key differentiator from other apps currently on the market – would be its ability to connect you with your loved ones, whether they live close by or hundreds of miles away. This underscores the idea that tracking our own health information ( known as the quantified self ) is just as important as being able to track theirs. It also supports an existing concept, known as the quantified household.
- Personalized tips & daily reminder: during a pandemic, it is particularly important to promote empathy by providing content (and context) that is relatable, trustworthy and human.
Trust & Reliability
- Data sharing: Significant privacy worries may lie ahead in regards to data sharing. Tech companies and health providers alike need to be able to explain clearly and concisely where and how this data will be used. This is especially important when confidential medical information is shared between healthcare providers and third-party players like insurance companies. Bottom line: all data should remain under the user’s control.
- Facts and reliable sources: any information fed into the system should be reliable and all sources should be clearly stated. In Germany, for example, official sources would include the Robert Koch Institut, WHO, Government or approved health professionals. The app should be developed in partnership with these organizations. Why is this important? During this pandemic, there has been massive information overload online and offline, and providing the most reliable sources will help everyone make decisions more effectively.
Health & Safety
- News updates: information on changes to restrictions in specific regions, outbreaks in particular cities, etc. should also be provided. For example, smart–thermometer maker Kinsa has been working on building accurate, predictive models of how seasonal illnesses (like the flu) travel in, around and among specific communities. In particular, its fever map is finding new uses as COVID-19 spreads globally (details here).
- Reassurance: what could be better than an app which reassures us that we are okay and warns us if we’re not OK? If you’re not OK, healthcare professionals are available just a few clicks away.
To better visualize these value propositions, we have developed a short, animated video which you can watch here.
For now, the ideas I have outlined here are just a concept. Down the line, however, this thinking could certainly be adapted to other post–pandemic illnesses and/or extended to developing countries where access to medical resources can be scarce.
I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and ideas on this important topic – as usual, it would be great to get your feedback on how we could push this idea further to build a better future for all!