Co-authored by: Alakiyavaradhan Seetharaman
The Covid-19 pandemic has swiftly discomposed people’s lives. Nations are on complete lockdown as a forlorn effort to flatten the curve. The current situation and the estimated projection shows the potential for death of almost a million if not contained, which incubates fear on human race with the severity of the outbreak. It is a dire scenario and is not expected to get better any time soon. But we have high hopes that we will leap out of this situation.
Keeping aside the tension, have you ever thought of healthcare industry and its accompanying economy after covid-19 epidemic? Will it grow or develop or update itself? Of course it will! It has to! As healthcare specialists across the world pronounce, “we will not go back to normal, but we will have a new normal”. Healthcare professionals’ recent enlightenment, “The best defense against any outbreak is a strong health system” and the famous proverb, “Necessity is the mother of inventions” are the significant sayings which are being realized now. Although healthcare services has been stuck in a stagnant paradigm for an interminable period of time, few process/innovations would use this virological threat as a catalyst to accelerate its long awaited transformation. As evidence, in the past couple of months, nations have adopted new policies and reforms backed by modern tools and technologies, which public health professionals and advocates have been pursuing for decades. This shows the start of a healthcare industry revolution.
The following are the various areas in healthcare services which will transform due to this disastrous pandemic:
The use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support remote clinical healthcare or telehealth services and healthcare related education would improve and become a major part in healthcare.
Present impediments of telehealth are dissipating; the disadvantages are overlooked to treat patients in this present adverse conditions. CMS and many insurance companies now allows its beneficiaries to use telehealth services and made them reimbursable in the existing plan, to help people get the care they need and also minimize the hospital visits for non- urgent cases.
Telehealth services which are gaining much popularity will be widespread even after Covid-19, since after the initial hesitations, ignorance is all broken down with people enjoying the convenience of the service.
New providers, methods, process improvements, and usage of additional technologies such as AI to integrate and Hadoop to mine data to translate it into meaningful information which can be used for diagnosis, treatment, and prediction of future outcomes, are all expected in the telehealth sector to overcome the overlooked demerits.
Government and healthcare organizations across the world have wised up on the importance of quick delivery of results. This lays the pathway for automation in healthcare industry. It can save labor, reduce cost, human delays and errors thereby aiding in rapid achievement of results.
A report by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation says, “Automation makes population health management feasible, scalable and sustainable.” Laboratories, manufacturing of surgical instruments, drug development and production will be automated, thereby saving millions of people and also preventing economy breakdown.
These automations can be achieved by enabling RPA (Robotic process automation) using AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning), so that high volume and repeatable tasks can be handled with less or no human intervention. The economy of the IT sector will be enriched by these healthcare automations.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Proverb
Healthcare was already sliding towards preventive care. Recent stumble ignited people to think and follow preventive measures, since there is no medicine or vaccine for novel COVID and the only mass measure people are following is preventives such as social distancing, keeping the environment hygienic, wearing protection masks, and raising immunity. These measures are saving billions of people at present. Safety procedures are mandated for hospital staffs including lab technicians, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and drivers. Special suits, masks, goggles, gloves are used based on parameters like necessity and intensity of the spread, to avoid accidental exposure. The same might be rigidly applied to other contagions to contain it in the initial stages.
This enormous shift towards preventive care would be backed by using and developing IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) devices such as wearable, trackers, and smart pills to monitor patients and inform the providers.
The pandemic has exposed a truth, our survival and health is momentous when compared to economy of the nation as well as an individual’s wealth. So people started taking care of themselves and the society. One such step is insuring themselves to face the threat. Some states in US have reopened health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. Health insurance sale has rocketed not only in US but all over the world in the past month. E.g. Online health insurance sales in India spurts up to 30%.
Cost sharing have been waived off for covid-19 testing in many US states based on government’s order. This blows air into the existing dilemma, the abolishment of in network and out of network benefit differentiation, which the payers have been facing. This abolishment if made effective would encourage quality treatment and help people to choose the provider based on their preference but not limited by network restrictions.
Even though payers’ spends increased due to cost sharing waive-off, the increased treatment charges for older people and those with underlying medical conditions and the increased behavioral health treatments like psychiatric therapy for depression (an adverse effect of loneliness and social distancing), the increased sales, and prophylaxis treatment ratcheted up their profits.
This will lead to development of new online tools to help people enroll into insurance with less user interaction; enhancement of existing tools, products, and services to increase its scalability.
Collaboration and information sharing among healthcare professional all over the world will increase to minimize rework, find existing best practices, diagnose quickly, identify feasible treatment procedures, and develop drugs rapidly.
We are now witnessing countries sharing data and resources, thereby working together to uplift from the present situation. A fool proof collaboration tool integrating features such as video conferencing, chatting, IVR, file sharing, storage of knowledge documents along with data sharing norms and structure will be developed in the immediate future on WHO’s guidance to improve collaboration.
Rules and Regulation:
Rules and regulations have been added/updated and more is expected in the near future to provide the healthcare system to handle the pandemic more effectively. E.g.: A series of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules by CMS on March 30.
Even after controlling the outbreak, providers and healthcare regulatory bodies have to change its focus on post pandemic situation and also fully state and develop an emergency response plan including roles and information flows to face such future outbreaks. A new vaccine policy is also expected to emerge.
These updates require technology intervention to add these changes to the existing tools and also to develop a more feasible process to enable it.
These are some of the transformations that are happening and are expected to happen after the virus subjugates but we do have a rocky path to achieve the desired growth after our fight against the global pandemic is won.