Feted as a communications wonder and reviled as a social distractor, the impact of smartphones on our lives have always had its share of controversies. However, its role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be crucial.
The two basic advantages that sets the smartphone apart from all other devices are: (i) it can work remotely, and (ii) almost everyone – at least every family – has got one. In times of contagion, notifications, lockdowns and social distancing – both these features have proved to be game changers.
Every contagious or endemic public health crisis requires tracing of physical contacts. At any time, it is a painstaking, labour-intensive task, let alone during overwhelming situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. However,researchers are relying on smartphone-based automated tracking systems that would not only reduce that burden, but also allow officials trace indirect casual contacts that an infected person might not recall or even be aware of. As mentioned byDr. Louise Ivers, executive director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health, in MIT News: “…to really contain this epidemic, we need to have a much more proactive approach that allows us to trace more widely contacts for confirmed cases …. This automated and privacy-protecting approach could really transform our ability to get the epidemic under control…”
Automated contact-tracing or behaviour-tracking tools via smartphones would need some amount of data collection to run effectively. However, maintaining a transparent approach and safeguarding user privacy will help drive greater adoption of such platforms and, ultimately, more comprehensive contact-tracing – to an extent that would have been impossible without the smartphone.
The other advantages of a smartphone during this crisis are only too obvious now, and almost all of us are benefitting from them every day.
One major feature that will perhaps stay post pandemic, and might see greater evolution, is remote diagnostics of patients to avoid hospital or doctor contact. While COVID-19 patients and their kin no doubt require strict isolation, anyone else requiring medical advice is currently discouraged from visiting healthcare facilities to avoid contagion. The healthcare industry is already working overtime to introduce algorithm-based and AI-driven remote diagnostic solutions. This is going to get an impetus. And smartphones would be the natural carrier of such remote tools, once launched.
Then there are the evils of the lockdown to counter, and the smartphone is dealing with them effectively. It is empowering distressed people to seek support groups, track and order resources – food, medicine, other essentials– and enabling us to perform all remotely possible financial and official transactions. It is also a quick and handy way for the administration to notify people of any policy issues or action points during emergencies.
This pandemic will definitely add a new chapter in the history of mobile telephony!