As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll across the world, costing lives and bringing upheaval and change to societies and economies, a key ramification has emerged: consumers increasingly want and expect to access healthcare services from the comfort of their homes or work.
Many hospitals and healthcare providers have made this pivot with the adoption and implementation of digitized, virtual solutions to strengthen logistics and better serve customers remotely. This model of care enables provider communities to reach a wider customer base; continue to deliver high-quality, cost-effective care; and maximize precious resources by reducing spending on physical infrastructure.
For example, by enabling the availability of virtual and/or AI-powered healthcare services, digitized solutions, such as telemedicine, have successfully impacted the primary care model of seeking an appointment, consulting the doctor, accessing lab tests, accomplishing the purchase/delivery of prescription medicine, and shifting care to patient homes.
Similarly, digital health technology has been deployed to address the most urgent needs during the pandemic, as an immediate response and well beyond, to mitigate the impact of the virus, introduce vaccines, and support a return to normal.
Lessons Learned and Next Steps
Many believe that the next 10 years may prove to be the decade when digital technology will reshape the health system, as strong continued uptake, favorable consumer perception, and tangible investment in this space contribute to the continued growth of telehealth and digital solutions in 2021. In fact, new analysis indicates telehealth use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline.
Looking forward, challenges around technological maturity, scalability, data governance, and impact on health outcomes may be resolved by an entrepreneurial mindset that is agile, flexible, and ready to innovate to serve customer needs. This approach is essential for healthcare business models to survive, build resilience, and maintain sustainability.
Technology must be deployed at the speed at which patients and employees need it rather than as fast as legacy systems will allow. Faster technology implementation can create advantages for both the health system and patients. While the pandemic tested all healthcare systems globally to the core, it has also fast-tracked progress by almost 10X. The opportunity for growth lies in building upon the lessons of 2020-2021, adopting newer methods of operation, and better serving customers.
Digital transformation and site-of-service care models respond to patient needs for more convenient care delivered in the home. Opportunity lies in tailoring a business model to meet patient preferences for home-based care services, lab collection at home, and on-call clinicians—to name a few.
The Impact and Opportunities Within Digital Health
What’s more, virtual care, telehealth, and new models of care emerge as scalable and sustainable opportunities to streamline care delivery. For example, remote monitoring for chronic lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which are highly prevalent, can go a long way in preventing complications, especially in elderly populations.
Similarly, E-ICU can support ICU teams across countries during the pandemic by optimizing specialist knowledge to serve many patients across geographies. Telehealth can also improve quality, efficiency, and customer service for medical value travel. It is now being used to better coordinate care between providers in patients’ home and overseas, enhance preoperative and postoperative care, optimize patient and family member travel, and improve follow-up care.
In addition, telehealth is playing a role in re-engaging people and overcoming the current reluctance to travel, which has impeded medical travel progress despite the growing need for it. It also provides the ability for new platforms to support a virtual multidisciplinary team process in tertiary and quaternary care facilitates and even allows for direct input from “super-experts” in distant locations.
Generating actionable and preventable analytics is especially important in the healthcare sector where one wrong decision can have serious consequences for individuals and even entire communities. Well-being apps and wearable devices produce and store yet another terabyte of data. They can provide additional insight into the population’s health as well as help with diagnosing and setting up treatments.
Healthcare Workforce Reimagined: Strategies for Recovery
Digital solutions and use of technology to optimize resources have proven to enhance workflow, create virtual workspace, and break geographical boundaries that result in improved access to talented employees. This has resulted in cost reductions for building physical infrastructure for jobs, which can be fully performed remotely. These initiatives “future-proof” the health system by developing a contingency plan for the next public health crisis.
It’s important to be mindful that investments into technology are not cheap. Healthcare companies will need to ensure any new digital assets are capable of enabling the desired change, can drive better clinical outcome, and do not result in multiple duplications and failures in IT implementation, which are costly affairs.
Clearly, technology has bolstered part of the financial recovery following the pandemic, with the introduction of new revenue streams for healthcare systems wherever they are located. These innovations have contributed significantly during the pandemic to shape more robust business operations and usher in diversified models rigged to weather the storm. Digital solutions not only represent an important source of revenue, but also herald enhanced access to quality healthcare for individuals worldwide.