COVID-19 Inspired Healthcare Innovations
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted many medical procedures and restricted patients that have routine treatment regimens. Under normal circumstances, healthcare innovations, such as drug development and technologies, are costly and time consuming. It seems that during these uncertain times, one thing is certain: collaboration from the global population focusing on a common problem is invaluable to developing healthcare innovation at an unprecedented speed. Due to COVID-19, healthcare innovations accelerated at a tremendous speed, and were therefore able to be implemented sooner than would’ve been expected before COVID-19.
The main reason for the shift in technological innovation and application during COVID-19 is the change in primary focus from business and marketing developments to solving current health emergencies. This pandemic has shortened the length of research timelines and administrative barriers to focus more on health problems, with profits coming second. COVID-19 innovations are able to be produced at an unprecedented speed due to an increase in funding, as well as healthcare priorities being at the forefront. Here are some examples of COVID-19 inspired innovations:
1. COVID-19 Diagnostic Kit at Point of Care
With the virus spreading rapidly, it is important to detect an infection as soon as possible. According to the CDC, the first 5 days of infection is typically asymptomatic, meaning there are no symptoms in someone that has COVID-19. Additionally, some people remain asymptomatic throughout the course of the virus. Therefore, diagnostic kits need to be able to detect the virus in both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. The most accurate tool to detect COVID-19 is a nucleic acid test (RT-qPCR).
Some companies have developed various kinds of technologies such as new fluorogenic aptamers, nanotechnology, quantum dots, advanced image sensors, electrochemical sensors, and microfluidics to detect COVID-19. Below are some approved diagnostic kits using proprietary molecular point-of-care test platforms.
2. Portable Dialysis Machine
Many hospitals have limited their incoming ‘non-emergency’ patients, like those with cancer and kidney failure, that require routine treatments. In the case of kidney failure patients, COVID-19 can cause a serious reaction and blood clotting. These clots block the dialysis filters, which are available in a very limited supply. Usually, patients go to a clinic or dialysis center, but with COVID-19 and social distancing regulations, an innovation for portable dialysis has been developed; therefore, dialysis can be done at home or in a doctor’s office. In Europe, this innovation is designed to be used at home, where a nurse would come and administer the procedure. In this way, social distancing can still be respected and the risk of the patient being infected by COVID-19 is minimized. Below are some examples of the technology:
3. AI Designed 3D-Printed Swab Test, Face Shields, and Ventilator Parts
3D printing is sometimes considered as a secondary resort due to it being slow, but the products produced are often better than traditional ones. Equipment that can be 3D printed include face shields, ventilator swabs and nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing. Scale-up of equipment can be relatively quick and efficient, with each printer producing 1000 swabs per day. Also, the public has been accepting of 3D printing for PPE and clinical applications.
These examples are only a small representation of COVID-19-related health innovation. Innovations should be reliable when implemented and this can be achieved through numerous evidence-based research studies. This gold standard can be difficult to overcome since everything in this pandemic is time sensitive and a double-blind clinical trial might not be feasible during these times. There are also ethical debates of whether postponing potential treatment could benefit scientific experimentation. Moreover, health care professionals need to be trained properly before the technology could be widely implemented.
3D-printed face shield (left) by Stratasys, mechanical bag valve mask by HP (top right) and COVID-19 swab test by Formlabs (bottom right).
Ultimately, collaboration is key to decreasing challenges in this pandemic. Health care innovation is a marathon and never-ending learning process to improve health solutions for the world. COVID-19 has taught us that collaboration and perseverance are key when developing solutions to health care issues.