Stefan Thurner: "It needs digitization to fight a pandemic" - CSH

Stefan Thurner: “It needs digitization to fight a pandemic”


Jan 18, 2021

Lockdowns are old news. Using modern day tools is crucial to combat “the” virus.

 

Maybe the most crucial one is digitization.

 

In a commentary for the Austrian daily  “Der Standard”, CSH president and complexity scientist Stefan Thurner explains why a drastic push for the digitization of public health care is key in combating the current pandemic (or let’s say: pandemics in general).

 

Why were some Asian-Pacific countries so successful in stopping the virus spread? Their advantage was a preset of logistics, Stefan writes.

 

We saw it already: Key in the fight against COVID-19 is time. “It is crucial to quickly detect those who are infected and isolate them and their immediate surroundings,” Stefan explains. The quicker a system can respond—that is, the shorter the time between test and result or the time until certain groups are quarantained—the fewer people must be isolated alltogether.

 

However, if detection and isolation does not happen (fast enough), we end up to have everyone quarantined, that is, with a lockdown, a measure that is far more pervasive. In fact, while many of us are experiencing a lockdown for the first time, it is a very old measure, first introduced in the 15th century to combat the plague. “Only with digitalized public health care systems we have a chance to be faster and thus better,” claims Stefan. “Without digitalization we are not much more advanced than we were back then.”

 

Coherence instead of patchworks

 

Digitization means access to a fast and steady stream of data from data sources to doctors, nurses, health care units, pharmacies, testing and vaccination centres as well as to data analytics, and from there to decision-makers, communicators, and the media. Helpful data sets must not only include entries on infections to enable an effective contact tracing. We need much more detailled data such as actual information on hospital capacities, pre-existing conditions of patients, the immunization status of the population, or prevention measures.

 

“In comparison, the data that is currently being processed resembles a patchwork of incoherent, incompatible, non-accessible fragments of information. The current pandemic exposes the shortcomings of our public health care systems and shows how outdated our response mechanisms are.”

 

Yet, the moment could as well be a turning point to the better. “A lot of frustration would be avoidable if you start early. With the theoretical know-how and talent [let us add: as the one the Complexity Science Hub Vienna offers], we could achieve a digitization leap.” Ultimately, we all rely on a comprehensive and connective system for the future, “because this pandemic will very likely not be the last.”

 

 

Read Stefan’s [German] commentary here.

 


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