According to a recent McKinsey study, 85% of the executives interviewed indicated that they are concerned about the changes that the COVID-19 crisis has had on their customers' needs and wants. However, only 21% executives felt confident about their resources, expertise or even commitment to be able to adapt new growth strategies successfully. This gap between the need for innovation and realizing it is critical, but challenging in a chaotic and unpredictable environment like today’s.
And few sectors or domains have changed during and since the onset of the pandemic as ‘Digital Health’ has. The push toward digital - has made fundamental changes to our healthcare care systems, warpspeed innovations enabled by technology are disrupting the landscape like never before. To get a sense of future technology roadmaps within Digital Health, and the opportunities that are likely to emerge, we caught up with Wido Menhardt, Executive Vice President of Digital Health at Siemens Healthineers.
A global entrepreneurial leader with over 30 years of experience, Wido has held roles in varied areas within diagnosis, healthcare IT transformation and clinical informatics. He shared firsthand insights and transformation best practices in the form of Seven Hypotheses regarding digital disruption in the wake of COVID-19.
1. Virtual healthcare established for good
As the world went to various forms of lockdowns during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic, a fledgling virtual healthcare took off in a big way. And while the agenda was largely forced due to restriction of movement, patients quickly realized the convenience, flexibility and safety it offered against the virus. From a physicians’ perspective, virtual consulting allows them to manage their schedules effectively while having to juggle multiple commitments and patients. It is interesting to note that in many parts of the world, the changes or introduction to laws followed the informal adoption of virtual healthcare by the patients. So it is likely here to stay.
2. Unbundling of healthcare services
As many hospitals went off-bounds for non-COVID patients and people began switching to virtual systems, we witnessed a consumerization of sorts which has led to unbundling of large healthcare packages into specific services. It allows the patients to choose their providers, which also opens up opportunities for inter-state services for practitioners. It also encourages the development of specialized services and use of technologies like using AI and predictive analytics for an early warning system for specific conditions. In a sense, the crisis has accelerated a trend, the benefits of which go far beyond the virus itself.
3. Focus on ownership of personal health record
As digital and contactless became a norm during the peak, the need for personal health records in a digital form became a necessity. From diagnostic reports to prescriptions and everything in between, the need for managing such data and data privacy in general has improved. On the other hand, countries like Taiwan and South Korea went one step ahead and were able to use location-sharing and other personal data for contact tracing. While it was among the most effective COVID management strategies, a hurdle for many countries was not necessarily the technology to do it, but the implications pertaining to fundamental rights. So, as we go forward, a lot of decisions and systems design may need to be from a personal health record perspective and how the data can and cannot be used.
4. Digitally integrated patient journeys
Integrating patient data is key to digital health. Particularly during a pandemic as we learnt early on the need to particularly shield a group of vulnerable segments of people. So besides the infection data, HCPs needed to look at other factors in a patient’s medical history to determine the way forward. Even before COVID-19, we have seen instances where unavailability of information or gaps in patient history have adversely impacted diagnosis and therapy. Recording and access to patient journeys and data in an integrated manner could be the single-biggest factor to deliver a superior experience. The other end, the availability, and applications of medical data with AI and analytics can help assess risk in severe and chronic conditions. It helps improve decision-making for the healthcare providers, and it also allows patients to make better informed choices.
5. Adaptation of legal and regulatory schemes
Given the public health crisis it is, and privacy concerns covered earlier, it is evident that digital approaches to aspects like healthcare require new and adjusted guidelines, protocols and principles. Most regulations during a disaster like this are reactive, ad hoc and as a result temporary. Something as basic as making a video consultation between a patient and a doctor reimbursable required regulatory changes. There are also variations across countries, especially when it comes to healthcare. Or as is the US and Australia where states have their own rules. So moving forward will require a lot of collaborative work between regulatory agencies and consumer groups as well as industry stakeholders. A regulatory framework is not only desirable, but also necessary to keep out bad faith actors.
6. Adjusted funding and reimbursement to drive digital
In response to the crisis, we have seen a number of changes in reimbursement and insurance norms to encourage the adoption of digital. So while some of these changes were introduced as a temporary measure, the changed consumer behaviour will ensure that they are not repealed or they don’t regress to the past. This will have a cascading effect on a number of factors including delivery of services to payments. And technology-enabled solutions will reshape the landscape and rewrite patient-provider relationships.
7. Stronger global R&D collaborations
Diagnosis and PPEs during the first wave to medicines, equipment and even oxygen in the second wave, and the biggest of them all - the vaccines. All have been key areas of COVID response that have benefited immensely from global collaborations and a globalized ecosystem. While some of these were outcomes of local work like genome sequencing of the virus and specific variants to trace and map the mutation of the virus at a global scale. Same with the vaccine development where data and information from across the world was used across borders to improve the collective knowledge which expedited favourable outcomes.
The development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines and the mass vaccination around the world within one year of a pandemic is a great example of how some of Wido’s hypotheses came to play. For comparison, the development of a vaccine in the pre-pandemic age took anywhere between five to fifteen years. Nothing short of a phenomenon that was made possible due to global collaboration between diagnostic companies, researchers, scientists, pharmaceutical firms, medical device manufacturers, and hospitals. This is just one story, there’s still a huge scope for improvements and innovations and opportunities for new stories.
At an individual level, the pandemic strong-armed us into adopting much of these digital capabilities in the form of telehealth and remote medicine. From an institutional and providers’ perspective, it allows them to provide care safely. Among the other advantages, the beneficiaries have been the patients, and the biggest winner - healthcare. And we at Cyient are proud to have played a role in working with leading healthcare technology companies from across the world, including Siemens Healthineers.
Our digital capabilities and integrated approach across the patient journey has enabled us to develop and deploy effective virtual health solutions. We offer digital platforms and solutions that connect patient records and a secure platform for patient doctor communications. With the objective of making healthcare more accessible and helping patients make an informed choice, digital technologies are bringing healthcare to the patient’s doorstep or wherever they need it, and whenever they needs it. And we are glad to play a part.
So, as we head into the age of Digital Health, it is crucial for us to retain and build on the advances we have made during the crisis. We must look at cementing and scaling these gains and institutionalizing them as organizational capabilities. Digital capabilities allow organizations to do that, and enable better and faster innovation. The journey, without a doubt, will be challenging, but it is an incredibly exciting time for those driving innovation mandates within healthcare.