Dental Tribune India

COVID-19 response by mobile apps in India

By Dr Nilesh Pardhe
April 20, 2021

The possible benefits by which one can use mobile applications (apps) for contact tracking in managing the COVID-19 pandemic have been discovered. Various mobile apps have been developed and permitted by the Central and State Govt. and some medical organizations for controlling COVID-19. India has launched the Arogya setu app, the first of its kind in disease surveillance initiative used.  This study provides a systematic review of mobile apps used in the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on developing future e-healthcare services.

Introduction

COVID-19 pandemic has spread to around 213 countries worldwide. Due to the lack of medical management for COVID-19 at present, the main focus on preventing spread by the public is by following physical distancing, hand hygiene practice and face mask to slow its spread. [1] The confirmed COVID-19 cases are advised home quarantine or hospital quarantine based on the severity of the infection with contact tracing. India reported its first COVID-19 case on 30 January 2020, with 257,192 confirmed cases and 7,207 deaths. Central Govt. imposed nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020, followed by vigorous testing and contact tracing. [2]

Conventional systems used previously have not been designed to meet challenges like the one posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. [2, 3] Modern digital technology presents the possibility of improving health care efficiency in response to the epidemic. Such mobile health applications have been used previously during Ebola and Zika virus breakdown. Now is the time to update our digital surveillance system to help control the existing pandemic and avoid any such incidence in the near future. [2]

National Informatics Center, Government of India, developed and launched the Aarogya setu app to track COVID-19 in April 2020. [1] Various healthcare agencies in India have developed other apps to raise awareness, follow up of quarantined people, and enforce lockdown. [1, 3]

Aim of the study: To systematically identify and review mobile apps related to the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

Materials and Methods

The iOS and android app stores were searched with keywords like a pandemic, novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The search was done from the first week of December 2020 to the Last week of January 2021. The screening was based on app titles with their description. The gaming apps, apps on infections or disease not specific to COVID-19, and apps without English/ Hindi language were excluded.

Results

Around 300 COVID-19 apps were included; 30 met the inclusion criteria. 270 apps were excluded as they didn’t focus on COVID-19 infections, few were gaming apps, and some without an English/ Hindi language interface.

Only free apps without in-app purchases were included. About 27 apps were for common public use, 2 for the quarantined foreigners, and one was for healthcare workers. 

Out of the fourteen apps developed for quarantined people, one had a self-assessment tool, six had telephonic helplines, five had a function of questions and answers related to age, travel, underlying medical condition, and symptoms, and two had an electronic e pass facility available. Also, two apps had the function of confirmed cases with hot spot identification and contact tracing.

Discussion 

Central Government, together with the state government, is involved in developing these apps used in the country. [4] Many functions like contact tracing, quarantine, self-assessment were common at state-level apps. The information technology ministry has successfully installed the Aarogya setu app, which is available in 11 languages. [1] It is essential and has been made compulsory for people to download the app so that the contact tracing is done efficiently. Also, the state-specific app should be encouraged to help at the local level. With the rising cases, it is vital to install teleconsultation also in these apps. [5] Some apps did not have functions that could help health care workers, like tracking types of equipment and compile clinical data as used in other countries. [6] As these apps use Bluetooth connectivity, it can pose a risk for national security and user privacy. To counter this, Singapore has shared the app source code with the researchers for independent review. [7] Argentina is using apps that collect and record only the Bluetooth interaction. [8] To prevent that, the Indian government should address these concerns to the public and gather trust to set up these apps at a larger scale. [1]

This is an excellent step by the government of India for the COVID-19 m-health initiative. These apps are a source of providing disease-related information and knowledge at a larger level. [5]

Conclusion

For a country like India with a huge population and limited resources for testing, these apps will immensely aid in identifying the spots and individuals at risk at a faster level. 

References

  1. Mohanty B, Chughtai A, Rabhi F. Use of Mobile Apps for epidemic surveillance and response – Availability and gaps. Glob Biosecurity 2019; 1 : 37. Available from: https:// jglobalbiosecurity.com/article/10.31646/gbio.39/, accessed on April 8, 2020.
  2. Ahmadi S, Bempong NE, De Santis O, Sheath D, Flahault A. The role of digital technologies in tackling the Zika outbreak: A scoping review. J Public Health Emerg 2018; 2 : 1-20.
  3. Dujmovic J. Wildly popular coronavirus-tracker app helps South Koreans steer clear of outbreak areas. Market Watch; 2020. Available from: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/ wildly-popular-coronavirus-tracker-app-helps-south-Koreans -steer-clear-of-outbreak-areas-2020-03-18, accessed on April 11, 2020
  4. World Health Organization. WHO guideline: Recommendations on digital interventions for health system strengthening. Geneva: WHO; 2019.
  5. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Telemedicine practice guideline: Enabling registered medical practitioners to provide healthcare using telemedicine. Available from: https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Telemedicine. Accessed on April 12, 2020.
  6. Wood CS, Thomas MR, Budd J, et al. Taking connected mobile-health diagnostics of infectious diseases to the field. Nature 2019; 566(7745): 467-74.
  7. Lavallee DC, Lee JR, Austin E, et al. mHealth and patient generated health data: stakeholder perspectives on opportunities and barriers for transforming healthcare. Mhealth 2020; 6: 8.
  8. Morley J, Floridi L. The limits of empowerment: how to reframe the role of mHealth tools in the healthcare ecosystem. Science Eng Ethics 2019: 1-25.

 

Authors and affiliations

  1. Dr. Pradakhshana Vijay, Senior Resident, Department of Oral Pathology, King George’s Medical University, Lucknow
  2. Dr. Anil Chandra, Dean, Faculty of Dental Sciences, Department of Conservative and Endodontics, King George’s Medical University, Lucknow
  3. Dr. Mohd Parvez Khan, Professor, Department of Anesthesia and critical care, King George’s Medical University, Lucknow
  4. Dr. Nilesh Pardhe, Zonal Clinical Head, Clove Dental, Rajasthan - Jaipur
  5. Dr. Priyanka Singh, Associate Professor, Department of Oral Pathology, King George’s Medical University, Lucknow

Corresponding author: Dr. Nilesh Pardhe.

Email: drpardhenilesh@hotmail.com, nilesh.pardhe@clovedental.in

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