The arrival of the Novel Coronavirus has upended lives across the globe. Whilst humanity has had a long history of disease outbreaks, this episode is notable for the extraordinary population of humanity and our technological ability to cross national borders via air travel. The virus has also resulted in a nearly-complete upending of much of our capitalist society, exposing deep cracks and weaknesses. It has also highlighted the fact that most people, given suitable levels of safety and comfort, are decent, caring people.
The virus has also given many people time to think and reflect both on how we’re doing as a community, as a species, and how we might do better. I’m an IT person by trade and you can forgive me for thinking of tech solutions to this issue – but I’d like to share a dream I have. It involves the democratisation of technology, specifically, technology that I envisage would be affordable (indeed, maybe even made freely available as a sort of compact between state and citizen) and enable almost every human on the planet to not only probe their own health state but empower people to know more about themselves and their family faster, all without straining our diagnostic medical services.
Just imagine being informed that a new virus is in the wild. Instead of ALL OF US isolating and socially distancing, you’d calmly plug Device X (I’d call it a V-Corp, short for Vos Corporis, Latin for ‘you’ and ‘health’) into a standard port in your smartphone or tablet. The V-Corp powers up and you authenticate with a thumb or iris scan. If you’re an adult or child’s guardian, you read and accept an obligatory legal agreement – this device is not just about to give you information, it’d be legally required to send that information to relevant government and medical authorities if it finds certain conditions. Now all the device requires is a solid connection to the internet and off we go….
Left: An image of the fictional ‘medical tricorder’ from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I confess without regret that that show inspired a sense of utopia about human’s future and devices like the tricorder play a big role in that. In the show, authorities can detect (and sometimes fix!) almost any human ailment. It is that device that inspires much of this post.
The V-Corp now fully activates and a small orifice open – you insert your thumb and on contact the V-Corp closes a small needle on your thumb. (Blood donors will know the drill) The needle results in a small amount of blood which falls onto a fully washable and reusable glass slide, which then retracts into the V-Corp’s body. Cue humming and flashes of light as the machines does its magic and analyses for a host of conditions revealed from the blood sample. After a few seconds, the V-Corp passes the mass of raw data to your smartphone/table. Special software massages that data into useful information and presents it to you in the form of a report – you can get the executive summary, the standard version of a fully-detailed expert’s guide to all the findings. If the machine finds medical conditions listed by authorities as having ‘mandatory reporting’, that information is now already with the authorities, the V-Corp’s software having sent it all off, suitably encrypted.
Imagine the V-Corp telling you that you have signs of some sort of virus…
During an epidemic or pandemic, this device could give users peace of mind (or as much as can be had for those who may already have comorbid health issues). Those with relevant infections know they need to self-isolate, just like now. The authorities would have almost real-time stats and know exactly where to target resources. You can imagine a ‘mission control’ centre (fully virtual, no one needs to gather centrally anywhere) where the executive version of the V-Corp software presents huge interactive screens, showing blooms of geographic infections, showing available medical practitioners, showing utilisation levels of nearby hospitals, etc, etc.
This is all a FICTION.
There are (to my knowledge) no devices that consumers could operate and could show presence of coronavirus from something like a finger prick blood test. (Current COVID-19 testing involves taking swabs from back of throat, I understand)
My point is that if we ALL had the ability to self-test, we would be better informed and could have a more targeted approach to controlling the pandemic and indeed, flattening the curve.
And what of our experts? Our GPs? Our nurses and carers? I’d not want to sideline anyone – we will likely ALWAYS need their expertise, their skills and their practical, in-person care. In addition, there is only so much software and AI can do to interpret medical findings. Computers are notoriously blunt instruments and they’re as dumb as they are fast-processing. A device can only do so much when our needs are often grounded in more basic wants – touch, tact, reassurance, conversation, company, etc.
The device I have written about above does not exist. However, we already have very basic, very simple ‘self-health’ devices – the Fitbits, the heart rate detectors we strap on, the surgically-installed pace-makers.
In closing, I firmly believe that this Novel Coronavirus its huge impact are the catalyst for a new technological marriage; with the cutting-edge of health and medical diagnostics. If this happens, well, we ‘aint seen nothing yet.
(In isolation) @ Melbourne, Victoria