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  Life after lockdown: tracking apps, more virtualization and new priorities 

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As countries emerge from lockdowns, China may serve as an indicator of what to expect next. Myra Yu, VP and Managing Director (Asia-Pacific) of Teladoc Health International, is a good guide to the future. Based in Shanghai, her daily routine shows what going back to the office might be like for the rest of us. And working for a company that combines the two things that hold the keys to our survival -- healthcare and technology -- she is at the leading edge of the next wave of innovation.

Speaking during an online session on May 14th from her home in Shanghai, Yu, an IESE MBA '99 and President of the IESE Alumni Chapter in China, holds up her smartphone to show a QR code displayed on her screen. She needs it to access her office or any public building. Luckily, her QR code is green. That means she's safe to enter. There are also temperature controls, either with thermal guns or body scanners, at building entrances. And everyone must be wearing masks.

"Those are the three steps before entering any building," she explains. "No. 1 is the QR code. No. 2 is that your temperature is checked. And No. 3 is always wearing masks in public places to protect yourself and others. Then, when you get to your office, there's alcohol-based sanitizer everywhere. They are cleaning the elevators every two hours. The same at home. As soon as I come through the door, I sanitize my shoes and clothing before entering the house. That's my new normal."

The phone is a key piece in this. A growing number of countries, starting in Asia, have rolled out contact-tracing apps that their citizens download onto their phones. This tracks their movements, registering whether they have traveled to risky zones or outside their perimeter or come into close proximity with someone contagious. The app displays your status by color: green means you're good to go, yellow is caution, and red means you're restricted.

The QR code on Yu's phone works similarly to what most of us are used to doing when we scan our boarding pass on our phone at the airport. Scan your QR code as you move around the city, and your exact location and time are relayed and stored on central servers. If someone later tests positive, having this data makes it easier for public health officials to track and trace who that person may have come within a few meters of, out of a vast pool of millions of people.

Obviously, this system is easier to implement in a country like China, which can enforce that every citizen be monitored in this way. Experts agree that for such methods to be effective, they have to be used by the majority of the population. Just a few people downloading the app wouldn't generate enough data to cover an entire population in any meaningful way.

In Western democracies, it has been hard enough getting the entire population to adhere to extended lockdowns. In the United States, the pushback to being monitored by the government would be strong. In Europe, there are strict rules on data privacy, sharing and storage.

Even so, countries from the U.K. to Switzerland to Australia have already experimented with similar monitoring systems. And a big advance in tracing via phones just arrived on May 20th, when Apple and Google jointly released virus-tracking software to be used to develop apps for iOS and Android phones that detect -- via Bluetooth wireless technology (and not GPS, with its privacy-breaching concerns) -- when a user has spent time near another user who later tests positive for COVID-19. Reportedly, public health agencies in Germany, Spain, 20 other countries and several U.S. states are among those that have already agreed to test the system, which may soon be available (on a voluntary basis).

So, will more Western countries come to emulate the Asian approach? That's an open question. A recent McKinsey report makes this point: "In times of crisis, the state plays an essential role in protecting people and prioritizing a nation's resources for the response. This power shift transforms long-held expectations about the roles of individuals and institutions." McKinsey predicts a "rethinking of social contracts" as well as moves toward "mobilizing resources at speed and scale" the way that Asia has done.

Transformation whose time had come
For Yu, working in tech for two decades now has exposed her to glimpses of the future. "I already saw someone working on a prototype of a remote device that could measure your vital signs, detect your temperature and essentially see through your body with ultrasound long before any of this happened."

"This is a sea-change moment when the healthcare sector takes a giant leap forward in terms of its own digitalization," Yu says.

"Twenty years ago, I remember I was working on consulting projects with telcos, telling them that 'voice' was going to be free, and some of the incumbents would refuse to believe us. Around 10 years ago, banks were saying there were too many security issues around money... In the same way, this digital transformation is coming to healthcare. Unfortunately, it has taken a pandemic for hospitals, patients and healthcare payers to finally see the value of digitalization."

Read also: What's the future of banking?

"You see the same kind of fundamental transformation going on in healthcare: we're going to need different types of people and, if not fewer of them, then at least some serious structural changes or reallocations of manpower. AI will make the whole healthcare process faster and more cost-effective. Algorithms can structure patient data so it becomes more meaningful for the leaders to make decisions. These are all huge advantages."

A brighter, more sustainable future
As someone who works for a telemedicine company that collaborates with insurers, employers, hospitals and health systems around the world to offer virtual medical consultations, it's only natural that Yu would be enthusiastic about the affordances of new technologies for modernizing the healthcare experience at this exact moment in time. "The volume of our virtual consultations grew multiple-folds in the first quarter of this year," she says. "We're used to the virtual working style: that's what we do."

Yet Yu's optimism expands beyond her sector. Despite dire predictions of the crisis leading to deglobalization and more protectionism, Yu observes: "On R&D and the science front, collaborations between countries are happening more than ever. Our destinies are interdependent."

And having found new ways to manage, she believes people will moderate their behavior going forward. "We'll still go out for dinner but probably not as frequently. We've had to spend an enormous amount of time with ourselves and our family members, and that has made us dive inward rather than always looking out for the latest bar or entertainment. We realize that sometimes you just need to stay home and get along with yourself and your family. We've found new talents and discovered new things about ourselves, so that when we go back, we're not going back to 100% as before, because we will have evolved."

Part of this evolution will involve a "huge economic transformation," in Yu's view, from a consumption-driven economy to a more service- and knowledge-driven one. Before, it was all about "buy more, consume more, but at the price of sacrificing a lot of natural resources," she says. "Now, you realize you can live without buying that new bag, but you can't do without healthcare or food deliveries."

This may lead to a more sustainable economic growth model. "We're rethinking value, beyond just hitting higher and higher numbers, but creating more social value, which is something we were always taught at IESE. Growing bigger is good, but growing big and sustainable and creating value for all your stakeholders is better," she concludes.

This article is based on:  The road to recovery
Year:  2020
Language:  English
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