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A new task force aims to shine the spotlight on the role that consumer-facing mHealth and telehealth technology can play in tackling pandemics.

The Consumer Technology Association today announced the launch of the Public Health Tech Initiative, a collective of more than a dozen healthcare providers and companies – many with a significant connected health footprint – aimed at creating opportunities for the use of consumer technology in dealing with public health emergencies like COVID-19.

“Digital health services, including telehealth and remote patient monitoring have gained a lot of momentum in the recent months,” David Rhew, MD, Microsoft’s global chief medical officer and the PHTI’s co-chair, said in a press release. “These tech solutions, along with others such as AI and data technology will be an essential part of health response plans for future public health emergencies.”

“Technology will keep enabling us to find new ways to solve critical health care problems and integrating those solutions in an overarching framework will be crucial for the health, safety, and well-being of our entire planet,” added Rhew, who also chair’s CTA’s Health and Fitness Technology Division Board.

The initiative’s steering committee features executives from five health systems – Geisinger, Providence Health, St. Louis-based SSM Health, New York’s Northwell Health and Colorado’s UCHealth – as well as representatives from Doctor On Demand, ResMed, Philips, Microsoft, the Health Innovation Alliance, CVS Health, Brookings and the American College of Cardiology.

“Vigorous planning and preparation are an effective way to deal with unpredictable situations such as COVID-19 and technology is a big part of that,” added PHTI co-chair Alexander Garza, MD, SSM Health’s chief medical officer, current task force commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and a former chief medical officer for the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama Administration. “We need to accelerate the use of technology that advances coordination and collaboration between government agencies and the health sector and boost the capacity of our public health infrastructure to better deal with large-scale, future public health emergencies.”  

Primarily through the annual CES show every January in Las Vegas, the CTA has been highlighting the growing value of digital health technology in the consumer space. Through the Digital Health Summit, presentations on the show floor and various other events and sessions, the group has been trying to bridge the gap between commercial technologies and the healthcare industry.

As a result, health systems and hospitals are finding more ways to include commercial fitness bands, smartwatches, wearables and VR and AR glasses into clinical programs, and some are being used in studies aimed at improving detection of and care for patients and caregivers infected with COVID-19.

“The response to COVID-19 in the U.S. has highlighted the huge demand for health technology solutions,” CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro said in the press release. “Our forward-looking initiative identifies what needs to change when we are hit by a similar pandemic or another emergency in the future. The group includes leading experts who are on the frontlines of dealing with COVID-19, and we hope to create a blueprint that will guide the effective use of technology to combat these scenarios in the future.”

“This initiative is an opportunity to think carefully about the greater adoption of technology to improve the country’s response, preparedness and recovery in future public health emergencies like pandemics, infectious disease outbreaks, natural disasters, biological or chemical terror attacks and emerging threats,” added Rene Quashie, the organization’s vice president of digital health.

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