COVID 19 has been one of the most defining events of our lifetime. The impact, on both the human and economic front, has been unprecedented. The entire world has been brought to a standstill and almost all economies went into a complete lockdown.
 
With the search for an effective and safe vaccine accessible to all still underway, there is a need to deal with the pandemic for the next few years. Even before COVID, the healthcare demand was escalating due to long term, chronic diseases, and the aging population, especially in the US, putting huge stress on the health infrastructure. The stress on the health infrastructure has increased manifold due to COVID. Investment in healthcare would be critical for dealing with the pandemic but what would be even more critical is the right channelizing of this investment. The countries have continued to invest in healthcare infrastructure that was designed to solve a completely different set of healthcare needs. The present system cannot cope up with the kind of issues we are facing now. The physical healthcare infrastructure deals well with health episodes requiring hospitalization for days or weeks. It is not an ideal system to deal with the chronic conditions that require long term treatment. Most of the chronic conditions do not require frequent hospital or physician visits and can be done completely remotely.
 
As we adjust to the 'New Normal' and the economies start crawling back, there is going to a great emphasis on the recalibrating public health strategies towards digital tools. For healthcare providers, virtual health or digital health should be a key priority in their overall growth strategy. 
 
Remote healthcare: For healthcare providers, COVID has been a tipping point pushing them towards digital transformation. Remote healthcare has seen wide adoption by high-risk patients who need to avoid exposure to clinics and hospitals. In fact, the number of teleconsultations that have taken place in the last 2 months has exceeded the total such teleconsultations over the past 12 months put together. According to a Global Market Insights report, the telemedicine market will reach approx USD 200 billion by 2026. We have already seen how many countries have harnessed the power of technology to fight COVID. The use of health apps has increased by 158% in the last 3 months in the US. Singapore used a telehealth app called MaNaDr to remotely monitor the patients. Patients use the app to self assess themselves using the app and the doctors remotely connect with them to monitor their health. In case a patient requires hospitalization, the ambulance is called to transport the patients. India developed a similar app Aarogya Setu to monitor the health of people through self-assessment. The success of these mobile apps implies consumers getting comfortable with the concept of remote healthcare, something that will outlast the virus and create a new normal in the way healthcare is consumed. Healthcare providers have started understanding that digital offers an improved quality of care at scale. As consumers start consuming more digital services, including healthcare with the independence and flexibility of receiving quality care in the comfort of their homes, the demand for digital health is going to rise significantly.
 
Supportive regulatory frameworks: Almost every country has its own regulations around teleconsultation with none of them clearly supporting remote healthcare. With COVID, there is now a continued focus to keep people with chronic illnesses and comorbidities out of hospitals. With the threat of contagion and the need for social distancing, the regulators across the globe have changed stance considerably and have been supportive of teleconsultation. Mainstreaming telemedicine has been one of the transformative changes forced due to COVID. The providers must use this opportunity to scale up virtual health capabilities and improve utilization. 
 
Moving beyond diagnosis: Diagnosis is one part of the patient journey. Prescriptions have to become a part of the digital chain in order to complete the value chain. With consumers avoiding any potential contacts of infection, online delivery of drugs and other home care solutions will be an important growth area.
 
Care at Scale: Healthcare organizations need to accelerate investments in cloud, mobile apps, and automation to meet the huge unanticipated demand for healthcare. The right digital solutions can help create additional capacity in days by leveraging a virtual network of healthcare providers and increased cloud space. Creating a cloud enables infrastructure that is agile and secure can help deliver care at an unprecedented scale and quality. Remote health delivered through mobile apps coupled with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality tools offer an immersive experience to the patients.
 
 
COVID has changed the ingrained culture of receiving healthcare in a face to face setting with a healthcare provider. Though the impact has been unprecedented, it offers us a unique opportunity to significantly transform our healthcare delivery through new models of care. The virus will finally recede but will have long-lasting implications on how people work and consume healthcare. We believe virtual healthcare is here to stay and will become an integral part of our society in the time to come.

Author


Paramvir Bakshi