COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Despite regional mass vaccination campaigns and hopes to once again ‘normalize’ travel, new variants of the fast-evolving disease and differing degrees of vaccine protection leave many nations in a state of constant flux. Even if some attempt to merely ‘learn to live with the virus’ there’s no guarantee their economic partners would accept this outlook as well. With much of the region dependent on tourism and frequent travel, this can be utterly disastrous unless swift and decisive action is taken. The answer to this may lie in technology and a rapid modernization campaign and this is exactly what we’ll be looking at.
An Initiative to Digitize Healthcare
In the past we’ve drawn reference to Lithuania; considered to be one of the most digitized states in the world. In this nation, everything from citizenship to voting has been trialed and conducted online. It’s particularly interesting considering how small said nation is compared to its neighbours. In the same vein, the Caribbean should take a serious look at digitizing healthcare. Of course we don’t mean typing your symptoms into a search engine and getting diagnosed but rather something far simpler yet effective. What we’re talking about is data and management.
Consider how often, particularly in local healthcare systems, botched treatment occurs because of poor record-keeping, poor communication between medical teams and lack a lack of modernized procedures in accessing patient information. Now, consider a national database for patients accessible by proper healthcare institutions. This would be easily accessible throughout the departments, labs and offices of a healthcare facility as well as other partnered facilities nationwide. Naturally, this would allow faster, efficient and streamlined treatment of patients that could save valuable time, resources and even lives.
Revolutionized COVID Response
A recent piece by the World Economic Forum highlights the affordable implementation of digital operations could help collapsing Latin American healthcare systems fight COVID-19. Just as mentioned above, it stresses the importance of a robust and efficient data management system behind treatments. What we want is for COVID-19 results to be integrated into this system as well. Rather than have every PCR or Antigen machine in its own local loop, consider having these results directly entered into the overall patient record system. At first glance, it seems rudimentary but such an initiative can be a boon for healthcare providers and epidemiologists.
It would allow them to effortlessly cross-reference symptoms, medical histories, common comorbidities and other key bits of data that could allow rapid decision making for treatments, primary contact tracing and infection spread tracking at a far greater pace than is currently possible.
National Security In More Ways Than One
Another think piece by Siemens-Healthlineers notes that digitized healthcare systems must be treated in much the same way as a bank vault or Fort Knox. With security comes confidence and effectiveness. By treating data as a strategic asset both public and investor confidence will be boosted in embracing such a national system. Such an initial investment, though costly, is not without long-term advantages. The expertise and framework can later be carried over into other avenues from security to even streamlining economic activity.
Consider the monumental impact of being able to register, start, manage and conduct business wholly from an online platform with minimal time wastage and maximum efficiency. Such an initiative would grant much-needed improvement in languishing business and investment ratings thereby attracting both local and foreign investors. It’s important here to look at patients, investors and even citizens seeking state services as a consumer. A consumer values security, convenience and safety. The assurance of all 3 can easily lay the groundwork for a robust economic transformation.
Economic Healthcare and Regional Research
Earlier this year, the very first shipments of Astra-Zeneca vaccines, be they donated or bought, came to the region via India. Despite not developing or researching the vaccine itself, India served as the main manufacturing hub for it. India stands as the 3rd largest producer of pharmaceuticals in the world. Of course, we don’t expect the Caribbean to compete and overtake them in this regard. However what we can do is craft economic policy in such a way that minimizes bureaucratic red tape, restrictions and unnecessary hassle in establishing research and industry.
The Caribbean is a tropical region traditionally known to be a problematic and difficult to settle area for non-natives prior to modern medicine. Tropical climate, ease of access, nearness to major global transportation and shipping lanes as well as accessibility can, to the aspiring entrepreneurial mind, be a lucrative place for investment, research and even manufacturing in medical treatments and diseases. Consequently, the tropical climate and varying challenges that come with a vast multitude of crops available to grow in such a climate can allow this research and investment paradigm to carry over into agrarian science as well. Consider the potential for inviting and investing in companies that research and develop seeds resilient to drought, flooding, inclement and unpredictable weather as well as volatile humidity and environmental conditions; all readily available in the Caribbean region.
Thus, as we can see, a digital, technology-based evolution in the Caribbean is both viable and needed. It need not be an overnight event but rather a slow, gradual and affordable one as it undoubtedly requires foundation and infrastructure upon which to rest. Regardless, the world is changing and with it comes the need for adaptation. Policymakers and shareholders would do well to see the way the wind is blowing.