AI, telemedicine, medical devices: how COVID-19 is shaping opportunities in tech

Across the world, technology has come to the aid of the battle against coronavirus.

From thermal scanners that can detect those who have a fever, to robots that have been delivering food in hospitals, and contact tracing apps helping to limit the spread of infection, many countries worldwide have been leveraging the power of innovation in their response against what has been described as the biggest public health challenge of a generation.

Reality has had a virtual makeover – and with apps, artificial intelligence (AI), smart devices, and telemedicine all playing a key role in containing the outbreak, the face of healthcare is also changing.

So what does life after COVID-19 look like? What opportunities will it create as we adapt to new technologies and ways of working?

The world has changed drastically since the start of the new year. All of a sudden we have found ourselves working from home, and ‘Zoom’ and ‘furlough’ have settled into our vocabulary like they didn’t arrive just yesterday (who said learning a new language takes time?).

Nevertheless, it goes to show, adaption is key. And with digital transformation advancing at a faster pace than ever, coronavirus has been forcing us to reassess what we previously knew and adapt to new ways of doing things.

For many of us, nowhere is this more marked than in the great experiment of working from home – which has introduced us to the fact that there can be life out there, behind the screen. Video conferencing is now our chosen method of communication, and elsewhere we are learning that a remote future is capable.

As social distancing remains our ‘new norm’, technology is keeping us connected with friends, family, colleagues – now you can even visit an art gallery or museum without leaving your couch.

While the vast potential of technology has often made us regard it with a degree of scepticism – a ladder into a cold, Orwellian reality where humans are replaced by robots and we become at the mercy of emotionally sentient Androids – reality has (so far) proven much more different.

Today we are learning it can be a force for good – and a proponent of positive change.

Telemedicine, AI and apps

On the frontlines, telemedicine has been allowing people to access medical care at home, while smart devices, apps, robots, and AI are playing an increasingly important role in helping medical professionals to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

In China, a World Health Organization report published earlier this year labelled AI and big data as a key part of the country’s response to coronavirus, where innovative technologies – and admittedly an already sophisticated surveillance system – have been deployed to curb the spread of the outbreak.

This includes a field hospital staffed by robots, apps and 5G thermometers being used to identify those who may have a fever – one of the main symptoms of the coronavirus – and robots being employed to deliver food and medicine in hospitals.

Many around the world are now adopting similar innovations. Facial recognition technology, phone location data – even drones – are helping countries, from the US to South Korea, to track, trace and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In the UK itself, researchers at London-based BenevolentAI have been looking to AI to crunch public data to find a drug that could be used to treat patients until a vaccine is developed. Similarly, pharmatech company Exscientia is trawling through 15,000 drugs in the hopes of discovering one that can be repurposed to treat coronavirus.

From small start-ups to tech giants, many companies are merging human teams with machines in a bid to find new ways of dealing with a virus never before seen in humans.

Spike in tech demand

Digital services such as telemedicine have also witnessed a spike in demand – an area where wider adoption has often been impeded by a lack of evidence in terms of cost effectiveness (when compared to that of deploying technology ‘at scale’), alongside the need to redesign services and adapt to new ways of working.

However, like remote work, telehealth has landed on our doorsteps overnight – bringing what has been described as ten years of change in one week.

With the NHS forced to take on a ‘digital first’ approach, practices have switched to telephone, video and online consultations (using secure video conferencing software) so patients can continue to access appointments, prescriptions, and therapy during what continues to be an incredibly tough time for many of us.

This extraordinary digital shift will most likely remain in place long after the coronavirus subsides – which has provided an interesting opportunity to weigh up and finetune the benefits of telemedicine.

Health tech innovations

The UK’s health tech sector – now the second biggest sub-set of the UK tech sector after fintech –  has also received a massive boost, with the UK calling on tech start-ups and companies to help the country tackle COVID-19.

From data platforms to symptom trackers and remote monitoring platforms – even ‘robot workers’ for the NHS – tech giants and local healthtech companies alike are collaborating to develop innovative technologies and donate vital resources to support the NHS.

There have been many amazing stories of tech companies rising to the challenge.

UK start-up AccuRx, who provide a secure messaging app for GP practices, built a video consultation product over one weekend, which is currently being used in 35,000 consultations a day.

In the medical technology sphere, incredible innovations such as artificial organs, 3D-printed prosthetics, MRI scans, and robots have long been revolutionising healthcare.

Now, the medtech industry is at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic – providing vital medical devices and technologies, from respiratory support equipment to diagnostics tests and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Even car manufactures have joined the race. It’s no secret that there has been a shortage of key medical supplies globally – over in the US, Tesla is partnering with medical technology giant Medtronic to make ventilators at its gigafactory in New York.

Meanwhile, Ford is working alongside healthtech manufacturers GE Healthcare and 3M to produce respirators and ventilators – using parts usually installed in vehicles. While the car industry has ground to a sudden halt in Britain, Ford will from this week be supplying life-saving ventilators to the NHS.

Across the world, we are witnessing incredible innovations and unlikely collaborations. Within the global race to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has taken centre stage.

What does this mean for businesses and individuals?

Many businesses are being forced to rethink their digital strategy as they prepare for life after COVID-19 – especially as we are everyday witnessing the vast potential that technology has in enabling us to maintain as close a semblance to our ‘old reality’ as possible.

As we look to the future, many companies – including medtech start-ups – will be implementing new applications, automation tools and developments, many of which will be based around AI and machine learning, which has already proven its remarkable potential.

Consequently, more jobs will be created to support these new innovative technologies and tech advancements – meaning a sharp increase in demand for tech skills, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, data analytics and programming.

58% of companies will embrace immersive technology by 2022, according to the World Economic Forum. To stand a competitive edge, businesses will need to invest in the right talent.

How Vivo can help

As tech recruitment specialists, Vivo Talent can help find the right candidates to support companies that are implementing new technologies, from full-stack developers to data architects, machine learning engineers, and VR, software or data engineers.

Candidates looking for career opportunities within medtech or technology rooted in data, AI or software development can get in touch to discuss the next steps in your career with us.

Keep Safe,

Richard Protherough

Founder of Vivo Talent