Healthcare Transformation in the Post-COVID Era

Alex Tarasenko
Alex Tarasenko

The COVID crisis has hit many if not all traditional industries around the world, but the one that suffered the most (except traveling, perhaps) is of course that of healthcare. 

However, big challenges are pushing big progress, and healthcare institutions have shown a deep understanding of this principle in action. The industry is evolving rapidly to meet the new reality and digital transformation plays a key part in the process. 

What are some of the achievements we can already praise? And what obstacles are still there for medical institutions and patients to overcome? 

Let’s find out. 

Emerging Telemedicine

First of all, the threat of contracting the virus that hangs over every face-to-face interaction has prompted medical institutions to shift their perspective on the way of providing the services. In other words, what can be done remotely on a digital basis – has to be done so from now on. 

In fact, countries are launching their own medicare digitization agencies/departments, like UK’s National Health Service digital transformation unit (NHSX), to facilitate and oversee successful change as the traditional industry enters a radically new realm. 

Remote Primary Care

Most intensely, the new approach has affected primary care medical consulting. It is the one form of medical assistance that most easily transfers to the contactless realm. In the UK alone, it is estimated that roughly 7% of first-case medical appointments are conducted in-person right now. This is a pretty impressive drop from the majority of consultations happening face to face prior to COVID.

Naturally, having the necessary techno-economical resources to bring it about ranks the United Kingdom among the leaders of healthcare transformation. Unfortunately, the statistics may not be as impressive in other countries. Nevertheless, this reflects the general trend around the world, with tons of new platforms facilitating primary medical consultation over the distance emerging on a daily basis. 

Online Appointments Booking & Documentation

A patient’s medical care is usually a long-term process that comes along with multiple doctor visits and treatment records. So, having the possibility to book medical appointments online as well as to keep the records about patients in a reliable and easily accessible manner – is definitely a high priority.

Especially in the post-COVID era, when an extra visit to the hospital or lack of timely data about a patient’s status can have catastrophic consequences, it is hard to overestimate the importance of digital-based appointment booking and document turnover systems for medical institutions around the world.

Digital-first Outpatient Approach

Moreover, a digital-first approach to outpatient secondary treatment is being widely adopted by clinical institutions. Some are going as far as to offer their inpatients iPads to communicate with family members. This allows the latter to avoid the risks of additional visits to medical facilities while providing the opportunity for patients to stay in touch with their relatives. 

Speaking of which…

Contact Tracing Software

Digital-based contact tracing solutions are another major focus of global and local healthcare industries. COVID is one of the new major health hazards for people around the world. And a bunch of digital tools is emerging to help monitor and contain its spread by alerting those at risk of contracting the virus. 

For example, the aforementioned UK’s NHSX is developing such an application. However, the institution is stressing that nearly 80% of all smartphone users (which makes up more than half of the entire country’s population) would have to run the app in order for it to achieve the desired effect, based on a computer simulation. 

Other studies, however, are not as skeptical/critical in terms of the required adoption of the apps. A recent correction by the authors of Oxford University’s original paper on the effectiveness of Exposure Notification Systems (ENS), states that the aforementioned adoption scale can not only help but effectively stop the pandemic. Whereas, the apps will already have a positive effect on much lower usage levels, essentially from zero and up. 

Here’s their chart:

Source: Oxford University

Present challenges

Regardless of the global urge and efforts towards quicker industry transformation, obstacles are still present on our way to fulfilling it according to the design. 

From preparing medical staff to meet the new challenges in the digital realm and polishing the technological component behind the initiative, to getting the general public on tracks with the new healthcare direction – there’s still a good way to go before the transformation happens. 

Staff training 

Before anything else, a lack of appropriate staff training represents a major obstacle to successful and quick industry transformation. The new ways of conducting medical activities require medical personnel to adapt rapidly in order to successfully meet emerging challenges. And this adaptation concerns the medical specialists’ skills and resources, as well as the general procedure.  

The problem is that the hospitals’ MDs and GPs that are on the frontlines of implementing telemedicine are not technology experts themselves. Whereas healthcare transformation requires both a clear understanding of the traditional industry processes and the technical savviness just as much. This is, although minor, but still a contributing factor to slowing down the digital healthcare adoption.  

The imperfection of digital solutions and lack of resources 

That said, the human factor is far not the only obstacle for the industry. The very technological component on which the entire process of digital transformation rests has to evolve in order for the industry to cope with the day-to-day challenges that are emerging right now. 

In order for the system to work, it has to remain coherent on many levels. From primary and secondary care to provision and so on. At that, the interoperability inside and between healthcare branches is still insufficient. 

More so, there are rather unexpected issues medical institutions come across. Things like mailbox storage getting filled up from the flood of emails up to a point where new ones aren’t received. Or difficulties with accessing clinical applications for providing medical assistance. Various compatibility issues… There’s a new one every day. All of these problems have to be resolved, and there is no way of predicting them beforehand.  

Privacy concerns

The digitization of healthcare records and activities is putting sensitive patients’ (privacy) data in a vulnerable position. On one hand, this creates a need for additional regulations in the industry. On the other – a need for appropriate digital solutions that will grant people’s privacy.

A lot of people are not ready to share their medical data with a digital third party fearing it would be disclosed. Which is, although improbable, does not come without precedents. Like that, the lack of trust from the public creates resistance to the adoption of the new medicare approach.

Which brings us to another telemedicine problem…

Consumer preparedness

Truly, the primary beneficiaries of telehealthcare are those that are most vulnerable in times of a health crisis. However, many of them are not ready to switch to the new approach because of ideology, habits, or available technology. 

First of all, the elderly are used to the old ways of doing things. Having grown up in the pre-digital era, they often struggle to comb through the complexities of various online systems. At the same time, a big chunk of the global population experience a far less favorable socio-economic situation than required for healthcare digitalization. They simply do not have access to the new tech provided. And then there are conspiracy theorists and ultra-conservatives that do not fancy the new tech’s overwhelming expansion for their own reasons…

So, consumer preparedness is another obstacle in the way of establishing coherent and effective digital healthcare systems. 

Final Word

To sum up all the findings, the COVID crisis has pushed global healthcare transformation to deploy at an unparalleled pace. 

While there are still a lot of challenges to overcome on this path, it is clear that an agile approach allowing both medical experts and the general public adapt comfortably, as well as sufficient proactive active in terms of predicting not only the health hazards but also the daily healthcare “management” issues – are two main things the industry should focus on to successfully arrive at its point of destination. 

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