As the current outbreak of COVID-19 continues to influence nearly every facet of our lives, not surprisingly this impact extends into our use of technology. From the apps we use, to the data deemed valuable, to the relative stability of various industries, the global pandemic will continue to shape technology even as social distancing orders are relaxed. We’ll review some preliminary technology trends related to COVID-19.
Digital Product Development
Innovation often derives from a need for solutions to unprecedented challenges and the COVID-19 age is no exception. The pandemic is modernizing traditional approaches to health and safety. Contact tracing, for example, is an established public health measure that involves identifying and monitoring groups who have been in contact with a virally infected individual to prevent further spread of a virus. As a result of COVID-19, there is growing interest in technology to digitize this process. Apple and Google have developed a tracing app that allows individuals to privately contact public health authorities if they become ill with COVID-19. The app in turn uses Bluetooth to alert anyone who has been in close contact with an infected individual.
While tracing apps have received substantial media attention for their efficacy as well as for their potential to expose private health information, they are not the only new technology geared toward containing the outbreak. Swiss scientists recently developed Coughvid, an app that aims to detect the unique dry cough that is symptomatic of COVID-19. Impressively one of the most comprehensive global coronavirus tracking websites was developed by a Seattle-based high school student. The student’s website includes the ability to search confirmed cases by country as well as view daily changes to total cases in particular areas.
The realities of a global pandemic can impact mental health. New tools designed to help people manage are also a growing area of invention. The National Center for PTSD, a sub-organization of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, recently released the app Covid Coach to help people cope with the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic. In addition to consolidating a bank of mental health and economic relief resources, the app provides several tools for self-care.
The pandemic has revealed that many critical services that we are used to receiving via face-to-face interaction can be delivered online. The flipside of this shift is that there are now new challenges to data protection.
In mid-March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), announced its decision to at least temporarily lift its historically tight regulations on telehealth, a change in policy that prompted other insurers to follow suit. Patient privacy rules under HIPAA have also become less strict in light of COVID-19 in order to make it easier for healthcare entities to use community data to control outbreaks. As telemedicine becomes more mainstream, with more people opting for virtual pediatric telemedicine, consultations and check-ups instead of going to hospital, developers will be tasked with creating products that both accommodate a growing need and align with evolving healthcare privacy laws.
Similarly, the switch to online learning across the country has evoked a re-evaluation of protection of student information under FERPA, the federal law that aims to protect data related to education. Security breaches in popular video conferencing systems such as Zoom could make it possible for new systems to take over. Google recently created a video meeting system called Google Meet, which boasts compliance with HIPAA and FERPA among other security features.
New Challenges and Opportunities for Developers
The pandemic has significantly altered consumer behavior in a span of months and the permanence of new trends remains unclear. Some industries are experiencing exponential growth as a result of the pandemic while others are floundering. Restaurant closures and a growing reliance on cooking at home has resulted in an unexpected economic downturn for many food delivery apps around the world. In contrast, health-related anxiety combined with consumers’ growing interest in personal wellbeing are likely contributors to the projected 39.8% growth rate in the mobile health market from 2019 to 2027. These trends will undoubtedly challenge tech companies to reassert the relevance of products that are losing traction and/or identify new niches within growing markets.
As big tech companies try to limit the spread of misinformation, they may also inadvertently make it more difficult for legitimate, pandemic-related digital products to be released. Recently Apple rejected several coronavirus apps that did not come from health-focused organizations, even though the products relied on data from valid sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Google has also created stricter guidelines for approving coronavirus apps. Developers interested in creating coronavirus apps need to anticipate challenges associated with interpreting guidelines that are not necessarily clear-cut in order to avoid app store rejection.
COVID-19 has also created new opportunities for tech experts to serve their communities and advance public health initiatives. The need for a more technologically-informed approach to public health interventions combined with social distancing rules make developers’ skill sets particularly valuable to COVID-19 initiatives. Researchers at Stanford University, for instance, have gathered an interdisciplinary team to create the tracing app Covid Watch and are currently seeking help from developers.
It will require great flexibility to adapt to a changing tech landscape that may continue to change for months to come. As the realities of social distancing for the long term become more clear, you may need to communicate with your customers differently through the web and mobile apps. We can help. Contact us for ideas to make your brand more accessible to your customers from a distance.