How Public Health Crises Have Advanced Medical Technologies
Advancing the Reaches of Telehealth
Throughout history, medical technology has largely evolved according to demand. Several major health crises forced the industry to reconsider the status quo, leading to sweeping changes throughout the United States’ health system.
In many cases, these outbreaks, pandemics, and infectious diseases revealed the flaws in the existing system. Hospitals and care providers soon realized they were woefully unprepared to deal with these developing crises. Once the worst of the pandemic was over, several countries changed their approach to healthcare, essentially reorganizing every aspect of public health.
As the world continues to respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, learn how some public health crises shaped the evolution of medical technology.
The Cholera Outbreak of the 19th Century
The Cholera Outbreak occurred when Europe and the U.S. were nearing the Industrial Revolution, and many individuals were flocking to major urban areas in search of work and a better life. However, many cities did not have the infrastructure to care for these growing populations. Disease soon swept through major population centers, leading to one of the worst outbreaks in history.
Once health officials were able to put the worst of the pandemic behind them, local governments went to great lengths to prevent another outbreak. Cholera mainly spreads through contaminated food or water, so officials invested heavily in sanitation, clean water supplies, better personal hygiene, and better nutrition.
Local governments also started investing in detailed health statistics, so they could track the spread of the disease. These records included infection rates, life expectancy, the average number of deaths/births, and other important health information. Ultimately, these efforts helped improve the health of the nation.
Degenerative Disorders Post-WWII
After World War II, Americans invested heavily in urban and suburban life. However, medical technology was still lacking as countless Americans adjusted to their new lifestyle. Until the 1950s, the medical community largely believed various chronic conditions such as heart attacks, stroke, cancer, and diabetes were an inevitable and natural part of the aging process. These conditions were lumped under the phrase “degenerative disorders,” leaving little room for specialty care.
As the medical community spent more time and money tracking the rate of disease across the country, they soon discovered glaring trends that would affect the health of the nation. Numerous “risk factors” seemed to correlate with high rates of degenerative diseases including diet, physical activity, the local environment, and the individual’s profession. This led to sweeping changes to the average American lifestyle. The U.S. government and doctors focused more on proper nutrition, improving the local environment, and implementing proper safety standards on the job.
The Opioid Crisis
The U.S. continues to find new ways to respond to the ongoing opioid epidemic. After the 2008 Recession, many middle-aged and older Americans struggled with addiction and overdose. Health officials embraced new treatment methods for coping with chronic pain, including physical therapy and less addictive pain medications, to curb the use of opioids.
The medical community is focused more on addiction management and treatment in recent years to reduce the number of suicides and overdoses in the country. More health officials started investing in telehealth as a way of combating the epidemic. This pushed software developers to recreate the in-person experience as much as possible to improve the quality of care.
Those suffering from addiction are using live video and audio to remotely consult with care providers, including mental health professionals and those that specialize in addiction and chronic pain management. Patients at risk of suicide or overdose can keep in constant communication with their care provider.
Much of the country is still dealing with the opioid epidemic, especially rural areas and those with limited access to mental healthcare services. Several states decreased telehealth restrictions as a way to increase access to care.
The Coronavirus Outbreak
The coronavirus continues to spread at a rapid pace, overwhelming the country’s health system. With hospitals and health centers overwhelmed with virus patients, the average citizen is being asked to stay away from their local hospital during this time unless they need emergency medical attention to ease the burden on local health systems while limiting the spread of the virus.
Many Americans are using telehealth to remotely connect with their care provider during the outbreak. Doctors can use virtual care technology to quickly and safely diagnose their patients’ symptoms without them coming in for in-person consultations.
This technology is increasing access to healthcare services during the pandemic without further overwhelming the country’s healthcare system. Patients can get the information they need without going to their local hospital, where they could unintentionally spread or become exposed to the virus.
Public health emergencies often push medical technology to new heights, forcing care providers to rethink their approach to healthcare. The coronavirus outbreak continues to challenge our
understanding of modern medicine, but hopefully, we will have a better health system once this pandemic is behind us.