COVID-19 push to tele-medicine, geo-fencing and surveillance
Encumbered by an extended lockdown, food-delivery, medical consultations, or education. Brands, too, are trying to reach out to the consumers who are confined to their homes
Encumbered by an extended lockdown, people are seeking new solutions to routine tasks, be it food-delivery, medical consultations, or education. Brands, too, are trying to reach out to the consumers who are confined to their homes. For this, novel alliances are being forged between the old and new.
Supermarket chain Big Bazaar, for instance, has partnered bike aggregator Rapido and food delivery service Scootsy to deliver essential goods. Consumer giants like Marico, meanwhile, are hitching a ride on food aggregators Zomato and Swiggy for delivery of products.
Even the government is adopting newer methods for surveillance that may, in the coming days, become the new normal.
This emerging field has, for some time past, allowed healthcare professionals to diagnose patients in remote locations over smartphones and video calls. Now, it is not only having its moment in the Sun, but fast becoming a part of daily life in the country.
Startups like Practo, Portea, and Lybate, which facilitate remote medical checkups, are witnessing a traffic bump as panicked Indians reach out to doctors over the mildest of symptoms. They are trying to keep a social distance so that the virus doesn’t transmit in nursing homes, and hospital waiting rooms.
Realising its inevitability, India’s ministry of health, on the first day of the lockdown, March 25, released a 50-page document outlining new guidelines for telemedicine.
On March 29, Practo announced that residents of Mumbai could book government-authorised Coronavirus tests on its platform for Rs4,500. Four days later, rival Pristyn Care, too, partnered with over 50 laboratories across the Delhi National Capital Region, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Chennai, and Hyderabad to conduct COVID-19 detection tests.
Beyond Coronavirus-related concerns, people are also turning to calls and chats for other issues. Diabetes care and management app BeatO is trying to emulate real-life experience by giving patients the option of adding their regular doctor to the platform.
Meanwhile, Meddo Health, which lists over 200 doctors across 16 specialties, has opened up its platform to doctors free-of-cost.
Tech innovators, besides India’s ministry of electronics and IT, have called for various hackathons to create ventilators, testing kits, apps for contact tracing and contactless devices for elevators and rest rooms, among other things. Some have even succeeded in creating working prototypes.
Maker’s Asylum, a community hackerspace in Mumbai and New Delhi, has designed face shields for healthcare workers. The M-19 shield can be made in just about three minutes by anyone following the guidelines of the prototype. Each face shield can be made for as little as Rs55. Maker’s Asylum estimates there are 500 hackerspaces in the country that can replicate M-19’s design which is itself open source and published on the software development platform GitHub.
Another key innovation has come from a team of biosciences and bioengineering researchers at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. It has developed a full PPE kit that, when mass-produced, would cost less than ₹100.
With panicky patients fleeing India’s hospitals and violating home quarantine, authorities have been forced to adopt surveillance technologies. Personal devices like cellphones were deployed in the fight against COVID-19. Under normal circumstances, this would have raised privacy worries. Now, these concerns are rather muted.
The Indian government, on April 6, launched the Aarogya Setu app, similar to Singapore’s Trace Together, for contact-tracing.The government of Karnataka informed the state legislative assembly on March 18 that it will track the phones of people in quarantine. Additionally, home-quarantined persons in Karnataka have to upload their selfies every hour via the Quarantine Watch Android.
In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the state government is using geo-fencing technology to ensure quarantine. Geo-fencing creates a virtual geographic boundary, setting off alarms anytime a mobile device leaves a particular area.
Kerala, another southern state, is using location data and CCTV footage to track patients, besides geo-fencing. Authorities have also used call records and GPS to track primary and secondary contacts of coronavirus patients.
Use of drones
In the post-COVID-19 world, police and civic authorities are both using drones for aerial surveillance, minimising physical contact, and monitoring narrow bylanes where police vehicles cannot enter. They are also being used to spray disinfectants in public spaces and residential colonies.