The numbers are increasing. As I write this article, there are more than 5.7 M reported cases of COVID-19 effecting people in 212 countries. COVID-19 impact is not limited to patients alone, this virtually has affected almost every human being on planet. The impact on global economy is significant and almost every industry and business that exist today, directly or indirectly has been effected. While different industries have been impacted differently, life science and health care industry which has been at the core dealing with COVID-19 has its own problems.
Today, every human being has eye on life science and healthcare industry. On one side they are struggling to get the right cure and on other side we hear about shortage of medical supplies including facilities and critical care equipment.
Biopharma manufacturers are working tirelessly to conduct faster research and manufacturing to bring test and treatments to handle the situation along with what they have been doing before COVID-19 situation emerged.
What they need today is agility in process, from testing to production ensuring all departments and systems work in collaboration and remotely through virtual engagements so that continuity in business operations is not effected by social distancing. Additionally, supplies and demand have to be ensured through a robust supply chain mechanism ensuring timely supplies for clinical trials and patient’s treatments. Their priority is COVID-19 today but other drug development process can’t be ignored or slowed down. There is a strong requirement on clinical trial improvement and data analytics/artificial intelligence based technologies should be extensively leveraged to speed up the process with limited resources.
The med tech industry is also struggling to ramp up production, bring advancements in design and price and at same time ensure delivery of critical care equipment is made available to patients. There is a shift in the way patients and healthcare providers will engage post this situation is handled. There have been a lot of research going in med tech to bring innovation. They are adopting digital solutions including analytics to manage most of it. Supply chain mechanisms also have to be digitalized to all possible extent bringing agility, visibility, and predictability to demand and manufacturing disruptions globally, using data analytics models. There has been a restriction in movement of human workforce and this has impacted business operations in med tech industry domain also. Med Tech technicians don’t possess direct life-saving skills, there is a requirement for them to work remotely to maximum possible extent. Introduction of digital remote work based solutions have been successful in handling reduced presence of industry technicians into healthcare provider premises while ensuring continuity of business.
Forced quarantine in many countries specifically manufacturing hubs have significantly impacted manufacturing and supply chain models impacting med tech and life sciences industries to a significant extent since they cut across entire healthcare ecosystem. Reduced supply of key pharma ingredients and care supplies in this time have made organizations think and redefine their existing single sourcing strategy. There is possibility of new manufacturing hubs emerging globally, reducing dependency of supplies on single or limited suppliers and countries. This will need a robust supply chain mechanism with better visibility and predictability to ensure risk mitigation in such scenarios. Advanced digitization of supply chain using advanced data analytics with machine learning based uncertainty predictions is the best way to achieve this.
Health workers and healthcare providers have seen a sudden surge in calls from patients enquiring about advisory and guidance on COVID-19 besides handling COVID-19 patients and managing shortage of their clinical care and critical care supplies. This has impacted their other out-patient department customers by putting them in virtual queue since most of non-critical patients refrain them from visiting healthcare provider premise. Healthcare providers have to evaluate and implement self-triage tools to help reduce load on their front line workers. These tools help caller check for symptom before making a doctor available for call. Chatbots by now have been most successful and popular in handling this load. Providence Digital Innovations Group, has seen 70,000 patient logins and over one million messages come in through the chatbot in the first month of the outbreak. Also there is a sudden need to train doctors and clinical technicians for these tools. There are organizations still in research phase to improvise the experience bought in by tools available in market as on time.
The trial and deployment of remote patient monitoring tools and telehealth solutions have been on rise. For telehealth it seems the long awaited ‘right time’ has finally arrived out of this crisis. While there are certain challenges with them including regulations from insurance industry in reimbursements, still the growth rate has seen a significant rise. Geisinger Health says they have seen increase of more than 500% telehealth visits in less than two weeks since the pandemic struck. Telemedicine platforms are helping families of patient connect to them while in critical care. With this demand many platforms have failed to scale up to sudden multifold volumes. Shortage of hospital beds have turned hotels and homes into hospitals and this has accelerated development of remote patient monitoring and hospital at home models. Healthcare providers have to scale up on digital virtual platforms
The coronavirus crisis may turn out to be a tipping point where future of healthcare may change completely. This can also change how we live and work. While many organizations today are re-prioritizing their ongoing IT projects, healthcare for sure is accelerating digital transformation.
Many digital health solutions and providers have seen a surge in their customers since their solutions can be used effectively through entire patient lifecycle for both COVID-19 patients and other patients. Such companies are in an extreme rush to expand their product features and service offerings. There are other healthcare services also on rise such as quarantine management offerings. With a lot of people working from home and many experiences job loss, there is sudden increase in stress, depression and isolation related problem management solutions and services. Many healthcare wearables products will see an increase in sales going forward.
While life science and healthcare industry ecosystem companies are working hard to create an opportunity in crisis for solving current problems and ensuring future growth, there is a parallel amount of effort being put by cloud providers in partnering with life sciences and healthcare solution providers. They are giving a platform to digital health organizations and biopharma companies to create an ecosystem for faster and agile development of their products and accelerate research.
For example Microsoft Azure is providing ‘COVID 19 Open Research Dataset’, ‘Microsoft Healthcare BOTS’, ‘Learning Passport’, ‘Patient scheduling and screening Template, and ‘AI for Healthcare’ etc. solutions.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is not left behind. They are offering solutions and options like ‘COVID-19 Open Research Dataset’, ‘Free remote monitoring solutions’, ‘Diagnosis development program’ , ‘Covid-19 HPC program’ , ‘Genomics resources on AWS’, and ‘AWS Covid Watch’ to make more companies opt AWS for growth.
Google Cloud Platform GCP offers ‘Specialized content delivery network services for government and healthcare for COVID-19 related websites’, ‘COVID-19 pathfinder’, ‘Predicting protein structures’ and ‘Rapid response virtual agent’
Other software solution providers mainly operating in COTS domains are also not leaving any stone unturned to support this changing industry. For example Oracle has launched ‘Oracle Therapeutic Learning System’ and ‘Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud’.
System integrators like HCL has also understood gravity of changing needs of business and has geared up well to support it. Through our inhouse IP’s and joint solutions with partners, HCL today offers a variety of offerings for healthcare industry such as ‘Clinical Platform as a service’, ‘Next Generation Research Platform’, ‘Patient Care Management’, ‘Transition of Care’, ‘Connected Field Service’, ‘Patient Engagement’, ‘Drug Serialization Platform’, ‘BASE 90 SAP for Life Sciences’, ‘Customer Care for Healthcare’, ‘LUCY – AI Chatbot’, ‘Remote Patient Monitoring’, ‘Decentralized Virtual Clinical Trials’, ‘Pharmacovigilance’, ‘Patient Experience Platform’, ‘Remote e-Detailing’, ‘UNCC – Centralized Data Exchange Platform’, and ‘WHO Backed COVID WAZE APP’ to name a few.
HCL is fully geared up at technology (AI/ML, IOT, analytics, blockchain), solutions, partnerships and process level expertise to support our customers and deliver above services.
The downsides of crisis can’t be ignored, may be the worst is yet to come. But there are upsides too which seems minimal at present and by gearing up for them, your organization can be a contributor to something which helps prevent such problems we know, in future situations like COVID.