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Avoiding COVID rebound: which approach to embrace?


Staying one step ahead can make a difference in our fight against COVID. 

The priority now is related to the physical world: respirators, masks, personal protection equipment, diagnostic tests, etc. However when the current critical situation starts to get controlled and the lockdown gradually lifted, one of our best weapons against coronavirus will be information sharing. 

That will be the high time of Digital. And we need to be ready. This article is a call to the European digital health community to foresee how to minimise infections in that scenario to prevent a rebound in infections.

We at Ticbiomed have reflected over the current proposed digital solutions, and split them in at least 3 conceptual categories:

A2C (public Administration to Citizens). This approach is 1 (one single organization, usually a public authority) to n (multiple citizens). The famous Korean and Singapore apps fall in this category as they necessarily require the participation of the government.

C2C (Citizen to Citizen). From the people to the people (n:n approach). These solutions, for example, include support networks to help the elderly or those in need in the neighbourhood. 

O2M (Organization to Members). An m:n scenario where m organizations (e.g. private companies, residences, student wards) exchange information to prevent infection among their n members.

From what people contact us and what we see in the news, the A2C is the one that most people are (uncoordinatedly) thinking about. So many that the EC is trying to put order on the plethora of proposed solutions. We however believe most of the good willing efforts coming bottom-up will be wasted. To work closely they need to engage and interact with public authorities at national or regional level that will basically not pay attention to them. Either because they are already working on them with their providers of choice, or because they are so overloaded with their own priorities. 

From personal exchanges, this is already causing frustration and disillusionment among innovators, especially those coming from outside the healthcare sector. But I would argue that the (health) authorities are not to blame. It is their right to decide what and who should be prioritised, and their time and attention span must be respected no matter how much innovators believe that their ideas are right and their desire to help.

As the A2C is currently difficult, some restless spirits will move to C2C type solutions where deployments are fast and do not require any dependency with Authorities. My concern with them is that global impact can be limited and/or do not add so much value to other simpler solutions like exchanging information by e.g. whatsapp or other popular tools. Also, they depend on voluntary efforts that make them hard to sustain over time and are hard to enforce in large numbers.

O2M approaches may combine the advantages of the previous two. Some organizations like private companies have legal advantages to enforce fulfilment, like the labour legislation to prevent labour risks among their workers, requiring them to report health issues. Also, they are in large numbers. As a reference, in 2017 the EU’s business economy was made up of almost 27.5 million active enterprises with more than 150 million persons employed. 

At the same time, you can address organisations without the direct approval of public authorities as long as you respect legal (especially privacy) and ethics requirements. Besides, helping the staff of companies to stay safe not only can serve as a firewall for the rest of the society, but also stimulate a faster economic recovery.

Therefore, we encourage the digital innovator community to think beyond the obvious A2C and C2C approaches, and also devote its creative powers to proposing solutions also considering how organizations can deliver value to their members. Schools, student wards, residences for the elderly are all examples of organizations that can benefit from digital solutions in the medium term. By the way, if funding is an issue to your project, there will be a lot available (more on this in a forthcoming article).

The time of digital innovators to impactfully help the fight against coronavirus is coming fast. Get ready and take action!

Jorge González, Ticbiomed director

P.S. If you want to get feedback or resources for your ideas, contact us