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First pandemic of digital era: How it changed healthcare system

The unexpected effects of the pandemic included record low numbers of influenza cases in the world

MOSCOW, March 11. /TASS/. Global healthcare systems have been carrying the biggest burden of the coronavirus pandemic. The changes have affected all areas of medicine without exception. All efforts focused on the fight against the spread of the new disease, as a result of which the pace of digitalization had to be increased to the maximum, and tests systems to diagnose COVID-19 and vaccines against it were created in a record short period of time. The unexpected effects of the pandemic included, for example, record low numbers of influenza cases in the world.

Digitalization of healthcare system

One of the differences of the current pandemic is the fact that it turned out to be the first of its magnitude during the global digitalization era. On the one hand, information about COVID-19 spread very quickly, and it was essential to manage that process providing reliable, high-quality and timely data in order to prevent the spread of fakes and speculation that could provoke panic. On the other hand, it was global digitalization that enabled scientists around the world to unite as quickly as possible and exchange new data promptly so that countries could develop optimal tactics to save the maximum number of lives and the best strategy for defeating the epidemic.

Another effect of the pandemic on a global scale was the quickly growing pace of digitalization of the healthcare system. Since COVID-19 is an acute respiratory disease, the primary objective prior to the development of a vaccine was to minimize the risks of the infection transmission. In addition to social distancing in everyday life, it was essential to protect as much as possible medically fragile people during their visits to healthcare organizations. Electronic sick leaves, the growing number of telemedicine consultations, including with foreign specialists, the transition of digital formats of physicians’ councils and meetings in healthcare organizations, refresher training courses and forums for medical professionals made it possible not only to reduce face-to-face contacts so as not to put doctors at risk, but also save a lot of time.

Diagnostics and vaccines

Digitalization and the vast experience of scientific development made it possible not only to decode the coronavirus genome in record time - it took less than a month - but also to create test systems and develop a vaccine as soon as possible. Such a pace was difficult to imagine even 20 years ago, and, if we compare it with the Spanish flu epidemic, at that time more than 15 years passed from its completion to the development of the vaccine. Now all the key events in science took place within the first year since the disease began to spread.

The pandemic has led to the massive use of CT scanners to confirm the presence of COVID-19. The use of such technology in the future may contribute to the wider use of CT scanners for diagnosing various infectious diseases. However, the results of such experience, its pros and cons, as well as the possibility of its introduction into routine practice are to be studied in the near future.

Victory over influenza

A rather unexpected effect of the pandemic is the record low global incidence of influenza this year. In Russia, this is linked primarily to high vaccination coverage. According to the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing, about 60% of Russians were vaccinated against influenza and acute respiratory viral infections during this epidemic season. At the same time, according to the US National Center for Health Statistics, COVID-19 ranked first in the structure of mortality caused by pneumonia, coronavirus and influenza in early February 2021.