The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming the healthcare ecosystem. How will it change the role of digital technologies in healthcare in the long term?
Profoundly. Much of our healthcare practice, protocol, and regulation have been designed, built, and billed based on an analog, bricks-and-mortar, in-person experience. The practice of congregating patients for evaluation and treatment (emergency departments, clinics, group therapy, primary or speciality care) is dangerous during this pandemic as it contributes to the spread of the virus to uninfected patients, to healthcare and facilities staff, and those involved with home visits and transportation (i.e., bus drivers, public transportation, EMS).
What we’ve been forced to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is the mantra “virtual first” and asking, “how might we remotely.” Much of the technology in place today is not new. What’s new is the necessity for and rapid rate of adoption. Health IT industry followers report enormous leaps in telehealth adoption and health systems reporting online medical consultations moving from below 20% to almost 90%. Virtual visits, symptom trackers, remote monitoring, chatbot triage, digital rehabilitation and coaching, digital pharmacies, and more are swiftly becoming part of the care journey. Increasingly there is a consideration of how all these digital tools are better integrated for a comprehensive digital care experience for individuals, but also how we might manage populations and overall public health.
The same technologies are also being deployed to screen our healthcare workforce. Digital symptom checkers are used for each staff member before and after a shift for early detection of COVID-19 infections. As health systems adopt digital tools, it enhances their ability to respond to other types of disasters, crises, and needs of communities and patient populations.
Telecare is on the rise. Do you think that we are ready to discover the full potential of this novel form of virtual communication and digital health services?
We’re on a steep learning curve that includes everyone. We’re asking practitioners to practice in new ways, patients to interact in new ways, and for all of us to use new tools.
Data, privacy, internet access, device setups, data privacy, and security are all matters that, at this moment, regulatory agencies and industry are evaluating for safety, efficacy, and effectiveness. Pandemic-pace learning has everyone moving swiftly to respond to meet new and existing care needs, but there is also a strong element of psychology that’s in play. The pace, volume, significance, severity, and uncertainty of the circumstances and changes are taking a toll on everyone. People are responding and working to adapt, and in this process, people, as well as institutions, need a period to reflect, absorb, and recalibrate. Taking full advantage of the potential that a more digital and data-rich health experience offers is an evolving process.
We’re learning where the challenges are. Internet access, bandwidth, device compatibility, individual access to devices, confidence and competence of using devices, security vulnerabilities – these are important matters that will require time and reflection and purposeful consideration to ensure that they are aligned and incentivized to deliver safe, high quality, personalized care experience that produces excellent health outcomes and value and do so in a way that creates health equity.