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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Opinion | Location intelligence may emerge as unlikely ally in battle against Covid-19

Factoring geography as a key component of healthcare could be a game changer

The covid-19 outbreak is officially a global emergency. The virus is spreading rapidly throughout the world, having infected more than 1.49 million people, causing over 88,567 deaths and a total lockdown across some cities and countries. Researchers and medical professionals are furiously engaged in developing a vaccine and effective treatment.

As events unfold,we are also seeing the rapid progression of the epidemic, with wide-ranging health, social and now economic impact. There is great strain on the global healthcare systems, struggling to provide quality care to infected patients.

The current situation leaves one to reflect on the inevitability of these infectious outbreaks happening at regular intervals and if there are any technological innovations that could be used to fight these. The idea of integrating technology into healthcare isn’t new. Cloud-based electronic patient health records, medical apps on smart devices empowering caregivers at workplaces and disinfecting robots have existed for a better part of decade now. Among all the new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and Internet of Things, the potential of location intelligence and spatial technologies to revolutionize the current state of the healthcare industry is tremendous. With data-rich stories and visual maps, location intelligence could emerge as our unlikely ally in creating healthy, resilient societies and communities.

Location intelligence underpins the assumption that if something happens somewhere, the insight from ‘where’, is what could make all the difference in access to care, the quality of care and the possibility of achieving positive health outcomes. This insight is the inspiration behind the integrated emergency response team incorporated in the tiny village of Barigaon, in Uttar Pradesh. Here, the villagers are encouraged to dial a button on their phones and answer an imminent question—“where?" The response is used by emergency response workers, armed with a high-tech centralized platform, embedded with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help residents caught in a security mishap or health emergency. Using GPS trackers and geo-sensing, the operators are now able to reduce functional gaps and enable real-time tracking and movement of dispatched first responders to assist distressed villagers.

There are many ways in which factoring geography as a key component of healthcare could be a game changer. Using indoor maps, patients could leverage the ability to navigate throughout parking spaces around health facilities, conveniently check in and schedule appointments and locate specialized staff throughout an area, thus simplifying and enhancing their experience with the healthcare system. In case of recurring and serious illnesses, patients can use interactive digital maps, to improve health maintenance and prevent recurrent hospitalization with information about community wellness resources closer to their homes. An apt example of how real-time monitoring and care are only as relevant as the individual using the technology to provide immediate on-demand care, is the Danish International Development Agency-assisted National Leprosy Eradication Programme rolled out in Madhya Pradesh a few decades ago. The programme mapped multiple drug delivery points vis-à-vis patient location in the entire state. The success of the programme was replicated by healthcare providers in Odisha and Tamil Nadu for diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, polio and HIV.

In public health pandemics like covid-19, location data could hold the key, not only in containing it, but also in its surveillance and eradication. Using satellites, GPS trackers, mapping software and GIS tools, healthcare and government agencies can analyze the data to create a holistic information network for citizens highlighting where the outbreaks are, identifying vulnerable populations, and displaying the number of care givers deployed. Another unique way in which contextualizing location can help is geo-fencing healthy populations from high-risk areas via monitoring of physical and virtual traffic. Drones with mounted thermal cameras could help professionals to remotely screen communities. Using interactive maps, citizens can facilitate real-time input on personal medical conditions, travel histories that might impact their diagnosis and treatment, demand-supply gap of local health supplies, etc., enabling health workers to decide where to send supplies or how to fight misinformation.

Understanding the power of mapping, geospatial tech can provide governments and healthcare providers with minute layer of details, planning and execution for creating healthier societies and developing resilient healthcare systems. Viewing location intelligence around covid-19 from a historic and predictive perspective, healthcare providers, government agencies and citizens can predict patterns, analyze inefficiencies, discrepancies and draw up the required action plan within the current healthcare systems to prevent, plan and be well prepared if another global outbreak strikes.

Nikhil Kumar is country head, India, HERE Technologies. Views are personal.

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