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COVID-19 reminds us: connected healthcare has never been more important

Healthcare systems all over the world are being reconfigured to deal with COVID-19.

Drive-through testing facilities have been set up. Trainee physicians have been moved to the front line. Hospitals have been established in sports facilities and conference centers.

The situation is moving fast. And even when the current lockdowns are loosened, it is entirely possible that further restrictions on our lives could be adopted if the virus looks like returning.

This will ratchet up the pressure on hospitals and public health systems that were already under huge and increasing pressure due to long-term demographic, social and economic changes.

People are living longer, with more complex health conditions.

Medicines, while effective, routinely cost tens of thousands of dollars a month or more.

And medical interventions are on the rise. Some developed nations are carrying out 40% more surgical procedures today than they did a decade ago – with the speed of increase in many developing nations estimated by the World Health Organization to be even greater.

The bottom line is that there is an urgent need to increase the resilience, responsiveness and capacity of healthcare systems, starting now and accelerating when the current crisis is over.

The good news is that the strengths – and weaknesses – of these systems have never been more visible or more scrutinized than they are today.

Around the world, people are pulling out all the stops to support the heroic clinicians who are leading the fight against the pandemic.

Firms specializing in artificial intelligence have repurposed their algorithms to screen thousands of drugs for their effectiveness as a treatment for COVID-19.

Factories that normally produce beer or luxury fragrances are now churning out tens of thousands of liters of hand sanitizer.

And public–private organizations have been set up to provide scientists with access to the world’s most powerful supercomputers in the search for a vaccine.

Nokia has been playing its part.

Among other efforts, our Enterprise business has offered private networking solutions for temporary coronavirus hospitals, while our Global Services team is developing a thermographic video solution that can monitor people’s temperatures in crowded parks or commuter trains.

This and other fine work from government, businesses, community groups and individuals will help us pull through the current situation.

But I hope it will also lay the foundation for a stronger post-pandemic healthcare system.

One which is better able to flex in response to unexpected “black swan” events, such as COVID-19. As well as being more efficient and effective overall.

Over the coming months and years, every government will be sitting down and thinking about how to improve the healthcare available to their citizens.

It is an immensely complicated question, the answer to which will vary from country to country, even from region to region.

But part of the answer is the adoption of new technologies. In particular, greater connectivity.

It is notable that the incredible international and multi-sector search for treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 has been made easier by the presence of AI, machine learning and the mass sharing of data, all of which rely on world-class networks.

But just as significant is the often-overlooked role that connectivity can play in hospitals themselves.

At times of unusual pressure, connectivity can make it easier to first triage and then keep tabs on large numbers of seriously ill patients.

And in more routine situations, connectivity can hugely increase efficiency, unlock greater at-home care and allow clinicians to make greater use of AI and machine learning in spotting, treating and preventing medical conditions that can often be predicted in advance.

So – how can hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers capitalize on these emerging opportunities?

One determinant of success is the network itself.

Networks must be of the highest possible standard, able to handle everything from sensor data to large 3D medical imaging files.

Nokia has already provided networking services for our healthcare partners. And we have been in close touch with them throughout this pandemic, assessing what works and what needs improvement.

But over the course of our relationships with these partners, we have already seen that when physicians are provided with robust, next-generation communication technologies, they can treat more patients faster and better.

Of course, it is not all down to those who run the hospitals.

When the pandemic cools down, governments need to look at how they can provide strategic support for individual healthcare providers. And the more innovation-friendly the nation, the healthier the local technology ecosystem – which feeds into the tools and talent available for hospitals. So governments should also encourage innovation and R&D investment in general.

But at every level, the post-pandemic reviews carried out around the world should take account of the fact that the tools exist, today, to better connect industries and public services, thereby helping our courageous healthcare workers to save lives and keep families together.

We look forward to working with our partners all over the world to put these tools in place, in the service of physicians and patients everywhere.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia using #healthcare, #COVID19, #privatewireless, #connectivity

Rajeev Suri

About Rajeev Suri

During his tenure as Nokia CEO, Rajeev transformed Nokia into a leading technology company for a world connected by 5G and shaped by increasing digitalization and automation. Under his leadership, Nokia acquired Alcatel-Lucent, successfully expanded into enterprise vertical markets, created a standalone software business, and engineered the return of the Nokia brand to mobile phones.

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