Life before the COVID-19 pandemic feels like a distant memory – a memory that we might never be able to fully relive again. The global turmoil set in place by the invisible virus has changed more than just our lifestyles; its effects have shifted the trajectory of our way of thinking, our roles in the community, and the way our healthcare system operates.
Despite our 21st century advancements, there exist a number of limitations in our healthcare system and the coronavirus pandemic has made us see them more clearly. As the world races towards developing a vaccine against the virus at a speed unlike we’ve ever seen before, healthcare systems across the world make revolutionary changes.
Where once long waiting lines at the doctor’s clinic was considered a norm, now rapid digitization and easier modes of checkups are evolving as the new normal. And perhaps, that’s how it should have been a long time ago.
Why Digitizing Healthcare Took So Long
Digitization of the healthcare system in many parts of the world include the United States began years ago. Healthcare organizations and researchers were slowly accepting the need for digitizing healthcare delivery by introducing telemedicine, AI and other latest technologies.
However, despite the progress, little was being done to implement it or evaluate its effectiveness. In fact, only 12 top tier digital health organizations were followed up with evaluation and implementation according to a study published by researchers at Johns Hopkins.
Another problem was that the digital health programs that did undergo scrutiny for clinical effectiveness did not satisfy the standard international clinical requirements with critics questioning the reliability of telemedicine chatbots, for example. London’s top digital healthcare company, Babylon Health, faced similar critique, resulting in fewer funding to digital health companies.
Yet, although these drawbacks were identified, the progress to correcting them was slow and for a long time perceived as not immediately necessary.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle in the delayed digitization of healthcare delivery has always been the physician and patient mindset. Most physicians believe face-to-face patient interaction is the only way to an accurate diagnosis and treatment and for many years, this was believed as a standard healthcare rule across the world. Plus, patients also preferred direct physician interaction to be fully satisfied from their clinical appointment.
While this is a natural and understandable concern, we now know that advanced telemedicine and a digital health care delivery system also has the potential to yield reliable physician diagnoses and treatments – perhaps, even more efficiently.
To put it simply, the delay in bringing healthcare to the internet has been influenced by a number of things – from funding to patient preference. However, with the new world order set in place by the coronavirus pandemic, this is likely to change forever.
The Effect of the COVID-19 Crisis On Our Healthcare
The coronavirus pandemic put an undeniable burden on healthcare systems across the world. Doctors, nurses, and all other healthcare personnel have been some of the most affected individuals in our society because of the virus.
As governments across the world imposed lockdowns in their countries, the number of visits to hospitals and other healthcare facilities also plummeted. This negatively impacted patients who had a genuine reason to see a doctor but chose not to because of fear of catching the virus.
This called for many healthcare systems adopting to a telemedicine approach. Telemedicine is an umbrella term that can include anything from online Zoom calls to voice calls carried out in a systematic way. Some advanced telemedicine systems developed highly advanced applications and websites to aid patients in prompt digital health care delivery, while others stuck to traditional phone calls.
Although, at first, this telemedicine approach seemed inadequate especially with regard to the physical examination aspect which is an integral part of any doctor’s visit, recent advances in the system have made us think otherwise. The development of at-home medical devices such as at-home digital blood pressure cuffs, remote stethoscopes built by Eko Health etc. are all paving way for a telemedicine approach that can soon, if not immediately, completely replace the old-fashioned way of healthcare delivery.
The good news is that we can already see clear signs of progress. Take Carbon Health for example, a rapidly evolving digital health company in the U.S. Carbon Health was one of the first companies in the U.S. to deliver an at-home coronavirus test that could minimize the exposure and spread of the coronavirus. New digital healthcare systems are developing in many parts of the world as well, bringing excellent results.
The Big Question… Will Digital Healthcare Last?
As human beings, traditional modes of practices – be it healthcare delivery or anything else – become deeply ingrained in us. It might not be easy to shift to a digital healthcare system all at once, but the coronavirus pandemic has certainly accelerated it in the direction.
Although most healthcare organizations are still in favor of the traditional in-person health care delivery method, new advances in telemedicine and artificial intelligence could potentially change their perspectives.
While it’s true that some healthcare systems will fall back to their old practices of medicine once the coronavirus pandemic is done and dusted, others will stick to their newly adopted digital health approach. In the long run, perhaps the latter will supersede.
For now, it’s important that we recognize the deficiencies of our current healthcare system and work on them. This includes allocating more funds to digital healthcare and as a community, trusting the reliability of technology.
The battle against the coronavirus is a long one and far from over. But with the rapidly evolving advancements in treatment and prevention, there is hope for recovery soon. But will we completely revert back to the life before the pandemic? It’s unlikely but perhaps it’s for the good.