Healthcare 2.0 – Post Corona Plot

It was only a few months ago that the healthcare industry around the world was undeterred. It was unswayed by any external factors, lest by an invisible virus. This one deadly virus, however, has changed how we look at health care now.

Apart from economies, service sectors, and other industries, healthcare been the hardest hit and it has been at the forefront of this battle. 

Social distancing, isolation, quarantine, and self-sufficiency have become the new norm of the day. Countries are shifting focus from imports and exports towards becoming self-sufficient.

Work cultures are changing. Companies are not only allowing professionals to work from home but in fact office parties have gone online as well.

Considering all of this, industries across the spectrum should mutate, just like the virus that is forcing us to do. 

Since it looks like the virus is here to stay for some time until a vaccine has been developed, the only way is to build a life around it. Building business models that are COVID-19 centric are one way to go.

This would provide long term solutions instead of mere shortcuts. This would also provide a framework for times to come.

But, not everything is as hunky-dory as it sounds. Changing business models overnight and adjusting to the post corona scenario is easier said than done. Especially in an industry as regulated as healthcare.

The one solution that healthcare has come up with to deal with these uncertain times is by going digital. This is being done through telemedicine. Some companies doing really well in this arena are Beam, GYANT, and Hale Health among so many others.

What is Telemedicine? 

Ever since the turn of the century, every industry has gone through structural changes. The invention of the internet and the advent of technology are the main sources behind such changes.

And, it hasn’t left the healthcare industry untouched as well. The result of that structural change in healthcare is telemedicine.

Telemedicine is a term used in the healthcare industry which refers to conducting medical activities and healthcare-related services using electronic information and telecommunication technologies.

Even though the usage of telemedicine as of now is relatively less, the industry is projected to grow to $130 billion by 2025.

Given the changing dynamics in the world, thanks to COVID-19, it looks like the projection of $130 billion will reach us far before 2025. 

Instead of asking what is telemedicine, the real question should be why telemedicine?

  • Telemedicine can help politicians fulfill their dream of an affordable healthcare system that they promise almost every year. 
  • The importance of telemedicine today lies in the spirit of social distancing and hygiene. For one thing, isolation can be maintained between doctors and patients, not just in spirit but in reality. 
  • An estimated $2.9 trillion is spent by healthcare in the USA alone. Almost $250 billion of it goes into unnecessary spending. With a little up-gradation of technological infrastructure, healthcare businesses can save plenty. This can lead to a lot of savings in employee housing and office maintenance as well.
  • A proper and an error-free track record of patient’s data can be maintained with the help of different software integrated with this technology. 
  • Service Quality is the most important factor in a service industry like healthcare. The concept of telemedicine may also elevate service quality in this sector. Telemedicine also offers easy accessibility to the patients. 

Patients are in general scared of going to hospitals and even more so in these Covid times. Telemedicine could address this shortcoming as the need to go to the hospital gets eliminated completely. 

Patients and doctors consult over video calls and the required tests are prescribed. This has also led to increased efficiency in sample collections.

Samples are being collected from the doorstep and the reports are getting delivered online. Think about the amount of paper, fuel, and time that this will also save in turn! 

Companies will also return to strategic stockpiling of pharmaceutical commodities as well as essential goods. Strategic stockpiling was prevalent during the Cold War and immediately after the oil shock in 1973.

Companies eventually gave up this practice due to the heavy costs incurred in holding such large amounts of excess inventory. However, it will be done again, considering the shortage of goods and the losses incurred at the onset of the pandemic.

Once scientists find a cure to this deadly virus, the focus will shift to vaccine research. Funds are expected to flow in this direction which was otherwise just funded by philanthropists. Vaccine research will become mainstream as experts predict that this may just be the beginning.

Apart from all these changes, post the pandemic, it is high time that a Universal Health Care Scheme is brought in place. The world should swiftly move in this direction to make healthcare easily accessible to all.

Let alone the poorer countries, a superpower like US was unable to efficiently manage the situation for its population. Having a UHC scheme has been in discussions in the UN General Assembly and the WHO but for some reason it received all the due attention. 

Post this pandemic, you might also walk into your doctor’s cabin and find his or her new assistant to be a robot. This robot will have all your medical history ready at it fingertips. 

This integration of human intelligence with artificial intelligence and machine learning is meant to enrich the consultation. 

Doctors could directly access patient records and medication history instead of the patient telling it all over again.

This reduces the time that gets wasted and instead the patient can directly jump to explaining his problem. It could further be improved to reduce the strain that the healthcare system currently faces.

Now, what are some of the challenges that the healthcare industry faces when it comes to implementing all that has been discussed above?

  • Lack of training and infrastructure is the immediate challenge in adopting telemedicine, telehealth as well as the integration of AI, ML and human intelligence. This might not be a long term problem, but our healthcare personnel aren’t quite trained for the required digital infrastructure for telehealth. 
  • The next is the lack of human touch. Although telemedicine is extremely accessible and affordable, many patients fear the lack of human sensitivity. There is a lack of trust in technology. People may not get a ‘feel’ of their regular doctor’s appointment. 

Once most of healthcare goes digital, blockchain technology can be used for functions such as record management, healthcare surveillance and monitoring epidemics.

Since information once entered cannot be manipulated, transparency, and patient data security can be ensured by implementing blockchain into the healthcare system on a large scale.

But, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for people to adapt. 

The future of the healthcare industry lies in telemedicine. While there are both pros and cons associated with it, the need is for proper regulations and COVID centric as well as long term policies.

Once done, there is no doubt that we can create a universally accessible and affordable healthcare system with no boundaries for anyone.