More Tech Trends Transform Medicine, Supply Chain, Education, City Management

(Second of two parts)
In our previous column (10 technology trends transforming our lives post-Covid-19, dated May 10, 2020), we presented the first five of 10 technologies that have played a crucial role in keeping communities functioning amid the lockdowns and quarantines. Below are the other five.

6. Telemedicine 

The quarantine measures in the pandemic have stopped the time-honored doctor-patient physical visit. During the crisis, people can access routine medical care using telemedicine without risking exposure to the virus and burden the healthcare system.

Telemedicine had been evolving in the last few years, but it met a host of regulatory and commercial hurdles that slowed its adoption. The technology’s ability to keep essential primary care service running in the pandemic has attracted a lot of attention. The United States government recently allocated $200 million to fund spending on telemedicine as part of Covid-19 economic recovery program.

The American Medicare program, which covers more than 60 million senior citizens, announced in April that it would allow online patient visits in its disbursement program.
Many new technologies such as the hand phone-based contact tracing, artificial intelligence or AI-based CT or computer tomography — lung scan system and consumer-grade pulse oximeters have proven helpful in the outbreak control. The trend toward using more wearable personal Internet of Things or IoT devices to track vital signs gets a welcome boost in the pandemic.

Remote healthcare enables public-health systems to provide the necessary service more efficiently, particularly in times of crisis. In the long run, it can also meaningfully control escalating healthcare cost problems, as technology adoption cost will decline over time significantly with broader adoption. Telemedicine is not a solution to the current crisis, but it will be one of its lasting consequences.

7. Distance learning

At the height of the Covid-19 school closing on April 1, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization reported almost 1.6 billion students in 194 countries or more than 90 percent of the total student population in the world was affected by school closure. Many educational institutions started offering courses online to ensure quarantine measures did not disrupt education. Technologies involved in distance learning are similar to those for WFH — work-from-home — including VPNs or virtual private networks, VoIPs or voice-over-internet protocols, video-telephony, online chat service and various work collaboration tools.

Although many countries had used distant e-learning before the crisis as part of the digital education curriculum to supplement regular schooling, the pandemic makes remote learning as the primary teaching forum en masse for the first time in history. Many educators around the world rushed to develop new education platforms, create more student-friendly contents and implement many innovative approaches. The continuing dramatic improvement in the quality of distance learning will make this new way of learning a defining legacy of the pandemic.

At the moment, distance learning is only possible in a well-connected internet environment, and the ideal learning result likely comes from more disciplined students. Distance learning can create a social divide in terms of digital readiness and income level, in addition to academic-performance divide between more dedicated students and the relaxed type.

8. Online entertainment

Although quarantine measures have reduced in-person interactions significantly, human ingenuity and creativity have brought the party online. Cloud raves and online streaming of concerts have gained traction around the world. Museums and international heritage sites offer virtual tours. There has also been a surge of online gaming traffic in the outbreak. Netflix saw its new sign-ups doubled to 16 million subscribers in the first three months of the year as a result of the lockdown. Total online video weekly streaming minutes on mobile across different streaming platforms also grew 60 percent in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in the first quarter this year (Media Partners Asia).

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) products using the bandwidth and speed advantage of the emerging 5G technology and broad wideband internet will be the new defining features in the new generation of games. More online entertainment at home calls for the new generation of home audiovisual products such as 4K television, and integrated smart home entertainment center.

9. New supply chain  

The Covid-19 pandemic arriving on the back of the US-China trade tensions has aggravated the vulnerability of the global supply chain.

With physical distancing and quarantine orders, some factories shut down from lack of parts. While demand for food and personal protective equipment soared, some countries have implemented different levels of export bans on those items. Heavy reliance on paper-based records, a lack of visibility on data and lack of diversity and flexibility have made the existing supply chain system vulnerable to any pandemic.

The traditional global supply chain works with multiple countries producing different parts of a product, then all the parts sent to the final cheap wage assembling point for finishing work and then shipped to the consuming country. The lengthy cross-border transportation route is compensated by better efficiency from the division of labor.

Post-crisis, companies facing the looming de-globalization move and the possibility of another unforeseen catastrophe such as Covid-19 will likely seek to diversify their supply chains and bring them closer to market with the support of the government.

Core technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as factory automation, smart manufacturing, 3D printing, big data and cloud computing are fundamental building blocks of a more resilient supply chain management system. The new supply chain re-configuration will accelerate the development of the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.

10. Redefined smart city

The concept of the smart city two decades ago in the wake of the advent of the internet was focused on digitization of government services and wiring the town. The expansion of the ICT capacities in recent years added more functionalities, such as traffic management, crime control and many others to what a smart city should do. The lockdown in the pandemic added public health management to the must-do list for the smart city.

We have seen the use of drones in monitoring lockdown compliance, disinfection of streets, use of mobile phones to track quarantine order violation, mobile  alerts of proper social distancing. It is too early to see how the smart city concept will evolve after the pandemic is over. Still, the inclusion of public health surveillance and implementing a more stringent hygiene standard is definitely on the list of requirements for a smart city.

The importance of digital readiness

The technology trends that we observed are all connected to the digital readiness in some way. The trends show the importance of digital readiness, which allows business and life to continue as much as possible in the usual way during pandemics. Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitized world and staying current in the latest technology; and, most importantly, integrating them seamlessly into the social fabric of everyday life will be essential for any country to remain healthy and competitive in a post-Covid-19 world.

A similar version was published in Manila Times on May 17, 2020. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (

Dr. Henry Chan is an internationally recognized development economist based in Singapore. He is also a senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace and adjunct research fellow at the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). His primary research interest includes global economic development, Asean-China relations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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