COVID 19 has left no industry or nation unscathed and continues to evolve at an unprecedented speed. Governments and businesses have scrambled to respond to the hopefully one-in-a-lifetime crisis. There is no doubt that the economic impact of the pandemic far outweighs the impact on health. The global economy is predicted to shrink by about 1%, as per the estimates of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Though there have been numerous predictions on how and when the economies will recover, whether the world will rebound with a U type or V type recovery, we really cannot be sure of anything, at least for now.
While most of the businesses are experiencing huge stress on their balance sheets and cash flows, there are some sectors for which this crisis might turn out to be a big opportunity. Digital health is one such sector that would witness huge growth with a significant boost to telehealth, virtual care via intelligent virtual assistants, telemedicine platforms and RPM (Remote Patient Monitoring). While a plethora of mobile apps and solutions are already available ranging from mental health, digital therapeutics, extended patient care apps, fitness solutions to name a few, the hospitals and healthcare establishments never really took digital seriously. Despite the apparent benefits, the health players have been relatively slow in digital adoption. While this crisis forces many users to embrace new habits including transacting online, we feel that some of these consumer habits will permanently shift to newer technologies and that the hospitals and other health establishments will need to think about alternate channels of healthcare delivery and evolve digitally to fulfill the expectations of convenience, affordability and quality care.
We believe that the following are some of the key areas that the healthcare establishments and hospitals should be looking at aggressively:
Remote Diagnosis: The regulations around telemedicine or remote diagnosis vary from one country to another. But in general, this is a good time for the hospitals to evolve a telemedicine strategy considering that both, the governments across the world and users, at this time are a lot more receptive to try new things. With out-patient departments virtually shut and patients putting elective surgeries on hold, the private hospitals have witnessed a huge disruption in their cash flows. Telemedicine offers hope to make state-of-the-art healthcare more accessible and might become one of the most important revenue drivers for hospitals in the times to come.
Patient Education: COVID 19 presented the governments an issue probably more severe than the virus itself- how to deal with fake news and inaccurate information on social media and the internet. An Accenture report points out that 52 percent of healthcare consumers have low healthcare literacy. With patients embracing self-care and willing to take greater control of their health, accurate patient education initiatives can build strong brand recall and reputation. A good content strategy coupled with an easily accessible platform can ensure that targeted and well-timed education content reaches the right set of users. The success of the curated content platforms shows that health consumers do value accurate and authentic content, more so when it comes to healthcare.
Appointment Booking Engines: Even if we assume that 20% of the users stick to their habit of transaction online, in the post virus scenario, an effective appointment management engine will be a must-have for every hospital. Not only does this bring in additional patient delight, but the reduced OPEX serves as a bigger incentive for hospitals to invest in mobile applications with appointment booking engines.
Learning Management: With over a billion people locked in their homes, continuous education initiatives for most organizations have taken a backseat. With bigger issues to deal at hand, learning is probably the last thing on anybody's mind. But the organizations could have used this time on upskilling their workforce so as to keep the workforce productively engaged. Hospitals must invest in technology-enabled Learning Management solutions. This will not only help improving patient care but also reduce the costs associated with training and development since most of the training and assessments can be performed remotely through mobile applications and streamed live or stored in a repository. Gamification of the learning tools and assessments can be added as an additional layer for improved engagement.
Extended patient care platforms: We believe there will be a strong emergence of custom specialty mobile apps targeting specific therapies. These solutions can help healthcare providers and hospitals improve patient care post-discharge and keep patients positively engaged. Pill reminders, daily diet charts, gamified symptom checkers, tools and tips for a healthy lifestyle, monitoring patient recovery through charts, SOS calling, remote video calling, reminders for follow up and lab investigations can be integrated into these mobile platforms. A 2019 Accenture Report says that in 2019, 70 percent of the patients were more likely to choose a provider that offers reminders for follow-up care via email or text, compared to 57 percent in 2016. It also reveals that the patients are more open to non-traditional care options, such as virtual care and walk-in clinics. To really make these platforms work, it is imperative to integrate these with the existing systems- EHRs and Hospital Management Systems (HMS) to provide the data required to make informed decisions about the delivery of care. The right security architecture in such applications must be a top priority.
The post-COVID 19 future will be fundamentally different and will change the way healthcare is consumed. Healthcare establishments have no choice but to embrace digital technology in order to be future-ready. It is important to understand that Going Digital is much more than a slogan, it is tough, it is a major cultural change. In order to succeed, the culture of digital transformation has to be created and that has to be driven right from the top. Like any other initiative, support from senior management is a must to achieve success in these initiatives. In the end, while there are numerous initiatives that health establishments can undertake, every digital investment needs to be linked to tangible outcomes, be it improved patient engagement, reduction in OPEX, brand recall or improved standards of patient care.
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