Coronavirus has surprised the world. Yet epidemiologists have been saying for many years that it is not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ The relatively mild swine fever pandemic or SARS were more like demonstration versions. The Spanish flu, a lesson in contemporary history, was long forgotten. The potential scenarios for a pandemic were left abandoned in a dusty drawer, all from a lack of interest.
The number of patients suffering from medically known diseases did not change dramatically, meaning there was no need to implement fast, bold changes. To a certain extent, we were used to the statistics on the number of deaths caused by cancer, flu complications, cardiovascular diseases, or diabetes, assuming that they were a part of reality and the price of human development. We stopped being shocked by the numbers printed on the front pages of newspapers, on the occasion of the next ‘world day of illness X. But suddenly, the coronavirus has become a threat to us all. It is no longer an abstract disease, affecting a small group of people.
Technological acceleration will shape the world after the pandemic
Finally, the politicians have listened to the virologists, although far too late, and implemented restrictions painful for society and the economy. The economic costs to COVID-19 are enormous, and yet they are also the delayed costs of neglect regarding investments in health security. Even the world’s richest and most advanced systems of health care were not prepared for a scenario like this.
Similarly to mortality from other diseases, inequalities at the national level are enormous. Coronavirus is like a litmus test for health care. It reminds us of its weaknesses, which are unfortunately measured in patients’ tragedies. And in the future, it should remind us that protecting fundamental values, including health, requires increased attention and funding. Investments in health care and scientific development pay us back many times over, even when the results are visible years later. The applause for the employees of healthcare services should be replaced with applause for a policy that appreciates the work of doctors and nurses as well as medical technologies and science.
Intensive course of new technologies
As a side effect, the COVID-19 pandemic speeds up the development and implementation of digital technologies that will shape the world after the epidemic. It’s like an accelerated journey to the future. Lockdown forced societies to change their habits. We become aware that, during our social isolation, new technologies allow us to see our families, shop, talk to a doctor, order medicines, exercise, and even estimate the risk of contracting the coronavirus. It is better to pay by card in stores because we limit the transmission of viruses in this way.
Many people have begun working at home, as productively as at the office, communicating with their co-workers by Skype. Smartphones have become our window to the world. We can observe the information about the spread of the virus on interactive maps, which are updated in real-time. Many people have created accounts in online stores, because they have no other choice, and they have become willing to shop with one click. Even our homes, with an exercise mat and a mobile app, replace the gym. We find it is also possible to do sport for free, and that it is quite pleasant to jog out in the open air. Streaming platforms, such as Netflix, have replaced visits to the now-closed cinemas.
Since the doors to the outpatient clinics and doctors’ offices closed, teleconsultations have proved to be useful. People have started to buy or order medicines at online pharmacies more often – they fear they will not be able to get them due to shortages. Many of us have started to use apps that initially assess their health condition (triage). Finally, millions of citizens, so far reluctant to use technology, have learned about the existence of such solutions like mobile apps, telemedicine, or online pharmacies.
Why haven’t we used solutions like telehealth before? The arguments that certain things are cheaper and more convenient could not change old habits. Many people feared it was too complicated, strange, bizarre, or that they did not know how it worked. And that it was not necessary, because one could or should go to the doctor. Last but not least, data protection has become an argument that killed all innovative digital initiatives.
The pandemic has forced society to leave its comfort zone and experience new things. New habits related to the use of digital health technologies, and not only, are currently emerging. Of course, it would be better if such a lesson was not required. However, it has become a reality and will change the views of contemporary generations.