Digital Health and COVID-19

By Michael Green

Much of the world’s attention since we began the new decade has been focused on the identification and spread of the Coronavirus, now known as COVID-19. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet declared it a global pandemic, the virus has been labeled a Public Health Emergency of International Concern since January and scientists from across the globe are tracking the virus and trying to predict what will happen next.

So, what does this have to do with digital health? While the connection may not be immediately obvious, there are three ways in which digital health is contributing to the containment of the virus.

First, the Interoperability and Standards community is doing its part to code and track SARS-CoV-2 testing and COVID-19 cases. Having the properly encoded clinical vocabularies in place ensures that digital information shared around the globe about COVID-19 is precise in meaning and supports scientists, clinicians, public health officials and governments in identifying, tracking and containing the virus.

To this end, based on recent announcements by the WHO and the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV), standards development organizations, the Regenstrief Institute and SNOMED International have updated their terms to align with WHO and ICTV nomenclature. Access to these international standards is made available to all Canadians via Infoway’s collaboration platform known as InfoCentral. Infoway is incorporating these changes into our pan-Canadian standards and working to be responsive and raise awareness of these changes to our InfoCentral communities.

Second, lessons learned from SARS, investments in digital infrastructure and pan-Canadian collaboration around public health surveillance have enhanced our preparedness and ability to react to COVID-19. For example, within a week of the disease being declared reportable by a number of provincial ministries of health, public health teams in a number of provinces prepared and made updates to systems to track the virus. This allowed public health specialists to monitor cases within provinces. They also shared system changes so other provinces could implement similar protocols.

Finally, virtual care is an excellent way to prevent the spread of the virus, among other benefits. Virtual visits, defined as an interaction between a care provider and a patient via video, text or email, have been a reality in Canada for over a decade. In 2019 alone, it’s estimated that between two and three million virtual visits took place between Canadians and their clinicians. In addition to this model being highly efficient, convenient and satisfactory for both the patient and the clinician, virtual visits are the most effective way to contain the spread of an infectious virus and to provide peace of mind to those recovering at home, those who are self-isolating as a preventative measure and those who are at risk and don’t want to venture to a doctor’s office or hospital

Frequent and effective hand washing, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze and staying home if you are sick are still the best ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. But at a time like this, when concern is mounting about COVID-19, it’s good to know that digital health is playing a key role in identifying, tracking and containing the virus.

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About the author
Michael Green

Michael Green

Michael Green is a strong leader and a creative, strategic thinker who has an international reputation and a proven track record of transforming health care through the use of digital health. He has leveraged international research and innovation to advance the digital health agenda, create jobs and stimulate economic growth in Canada. Michael has been President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway since August 2014.