For the healthcare industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a global “meteorite encounter”. It is an all-encompassing experience that has changed medicine forever — and it will never be the way we knew it to be. Although the last few years have shown countless advances in healthcare technology, there is still much room for rethinking its future. The next two years are likely to create a basic framework for this.
How the COVID-19 Pandemic Became a Catalyst for Digital Healthcare
An outbreak of coronavirus, or SARS-Cov-2, occurred in Wuhan, China, in the winter of 2019, and a global pandemic was declared shortly after in March of the following year. COVID-19 has caused massive disruptions in health services around the world. The consequences were both direct and indirect:
direct — as a result of an outbreak of an infectious disease;
indirect — through health measures to reduce the transmission of infection.
The pandemic created an urgent demand for digital transformation, which required opportunities for remote work and continued provision of services under pressure to comply with security measures. Various factors related to the coronavirus have made it possible to rethink the homecare system. Among them:
Growth in the use of digital healthcare: in the beginning of 2021, the use of telemedicine was 38 times higher than the one before SARS-Cov-2. Although the future of digital healthcare pandemic is not yet clear, all its “interested parties” have the ability to respond to changing consumer needs. About 40% of “McKinsey” respondents said they hoped to continue using telemedicine. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the company’s information, the number of consumers was 11% lower.
Combining different technologies for better results: a “mixture” of remote monitoring, telemedicine, social support, and home modification can help more patients get a decent level of care at home. Remote monitoring devices allow physicians to observe patient progress and receive alerts if there is a problem. In a survey conducted in April 2021 by the Medical Group Management Association, more than one in five healthcare companies said they offered remote monitoring of patients.
Increasing interest and investment in the virtual health market: according to “Rock Health” company, last year's venture funding for digital health companies beat the record of $29.1 billion. For comparison: in 2020, $14.9 billion was invested, and in 2019 — $8.2 billion.
Homecare can improve the quality of heed and conditions of patients, ensuring that they are comfortable in their own homes and potentially reducing adverse health effects. In addition, all stakeholders — customers, healthcare providers and doctors, home care providers, technology companies, developers, and investors — can see significant benefits. For example, patients may benefit from lower healthcare costs as a result of using a cheaper care facility.
Is Digital Healthcare Pandemic Really Needed?
Although COVID-19 has been a real impetus for changes, the need for digital transformation has long been recognized by healthcare leaders. Following long-term global trends confirm this.
1. The growing number of chronic diseases. Chronic lifestyle-related diseases are placing an increasing burden on the health care system. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 400 million people have diabetes, 500 million suffer from respiratory diseases, and 1.1 billion adults have hypertension. These figures are projected to increase as the population ages. To ensure the stability of systems, there is an urgent need for digital healthcare solutions that can help detect, diagnose and treat diseases earlier and more effectively — or, even better, prevent people from such diagnoses.
2. Patients expect more convenient and personalized care. As the world fits better into the gadget’s screen, patients’ expectations for care are also changing. Digital healthcare solutions need to meet people’s needs with intuitive solutions that fit into their work processes and daily routine, eliminating the inconvenience of care rather than complementing it. In addition, the issue of security of users’ confidential information is acute. Telemedicine must ensure the security of all trusted data and comply with HIPAA standards.
3. Health care providers are facing a growing shortage of staff. The World Health Organization estimates that there will be a shortage of 12.9 million skilled health workers worldwide by 2035. A 2021 Medscape poll found that 42% of surveyed doctors said they were experiencing burnout, and the COVID-19 pandemic added stress to many of them. Calling for digital solutions can help automate routine tasks and simplify workflows. At the same time, health care providers are looking for ways to expand the coverage of specialized care in communities where there is a shortage of experienced staff.
4. Healthcare providers strive to increase efficiency to reduce waste and costs. In the United States, the JAMA Network estimates that about 25% of total health care costs are wasted. Improving efficiency and reducing costs is a key priority for healthcare executives. They need confirmation based on digital data where the greatest success can be achieved.
Taken together, these four trends show the urgent need for digital transformation to create new ways of matching supply and demand. The future of the health care system depends on this.
The Imminent Future of Digital Health
In the post-pandemic future, patients will continue to receive care from a variety of locations, encouraging healthcare providers to produce personalized services. There is no way back. As patients and consumers become accustomed to virtual health services during the pandemic, they will continue to demand more and more convenience in their care. Many industries, including banking and trade, have been offering round-the-clock digital access to their services for many years. Healthcare will need to follow suit. Patients will become increasingly involved in their own treatment, collecting data through technology and sensors, and providing this data to service providers.
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring will be the cornerstone of healthcare. For patients with chronic diseases, most of the care currently provided in hospitals will be moved home. Virtual cooperation between health care providers will also help expand the coverage of specialized care to remote and rural areas where there is a shortage of specialists. With real-time audiovisual streams, first-class clinicians can look over the shoulder of their less experienced counterparts to provide remote support. The strength of this approach is that it can make specialized care more accessible. As an added benefit, remote digital support can reduce travel-related emissions, thereby maintaining the environmental situation.
By intelligently integrating data from multiple sources, healthcare professionals will gain a deeper and fuller understanding of patients’ health and well-being. The word “integration” is a key one here. Smart diagnostic solutions that support the protective information system must be integrated to cover the disease completely. The ultimate vision is to have a full-fledged digital physician: a model that brings together all relevant patient information and is updated over time to offer a 360-degree view of the physician at the place of care.
As the focus shifts to a more holistic and long-term approach, prevention will also become more the focus of the healthcare system. Digital technology can promote a healthier lifestyle through applications. Artificial intelligence offers individual recommendations based on the behavior and purpose of human recovery.
As the healthcare system is still directly affected by the pandemic, the digital transformation provides a unique and immediate opportunity to rethink where and how medical care is given — patients and caregivers will benefit from a broader and more comprehensive experience.
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