Many of the practical effects of the pandemic seem to be over—mask requirements and vaccine cards, for instance, and in-person experiences are becoming the norm again. Soon we’ll see if the hard-learned lessons around digital transformation stick or fall. Perhaps the most interesting industry in this respect is the one industry that would have helped fend off the pandemic had it been fully digitized already: Healthcare. A more connected healthcare system would have meant a more connected and coordinated response to the virus and overall public health. Healthcare, of all industries, should be looking back and taking the pandemic lessons to heart.
So that begs the question - has healthcare learned its lessons?
Historically, adoption of digital patient management technology has been much slower in healthcare. It has always been the norm for patients’ records to be stored in file cabinets, all appointments to take place in person, and bills paid by mail. However, with the pandemic closing doctors’ offices, decreasing hospital capacity, and increasing the need to stay home, the entire system was forced to pivot and accept digital habits to better meet the needs of patients.
Now, just over two years later, there is no denying things have changed. On the one hand, a study by Deloitte recently found that there was a 28% jump in virtual appointments in April 2020 and in another survey found that 80% of consumers say they will continue virtual appointments post-pandemic.
Despite consumer enthusiasm for this digital shift, the overall adoption across the healthcare ecosystem still faces hurdles.
On the other hand, this surge has not been as long lasting as we might have expected. A recent survey found that in May and June 2021, less than 20% of appointments were being conducted virtually. What’s more, many surveyed predicted that this percentage would continue to fall as we move further out of a pandemic world.
So where does that leave us? Are we actually, at long last, experiencing a digital revolution in healthcare or was this a brief change necessitated by global health crisis?
Despite a slow shift to permanent digitization, providers and consumers alike have come to recognize the value in a more digitized way of care. As in other industries, this shift has mostly been and will likely continue to be consumer-driven. Now more than ever, consumers want convenience, immediate access, and safe interactions. There also appears to be a renewed focus on proactive health – a mentality that focuses on how we can be our healthiest selves when facing a virus that we can’t control and seems to be infiltrating more and more areas of our lives.
Despite consumer enthusiasm for this digital shift, the overall adoption across the healthcare ecosystem still faces hurdles to continue to take hold and bring to fruition all potential benefits. These hurdles mainly lie in the overall culture and organizational structure of the industry.
While we have started to see new startups popping up in the US with a digital-first mentality, in many cases, true digitalization is a top-down process. In countries that are succeeding in this shift, it is often through government support and orchestration. They may provide grants or legislation for electronic health records or investments into biotech.
When this happens, it causes a trickle-down effect. Take electronic health records, for example. Moving records into the cloud provides access across a patient’s care team and allows them to quickly get a full picture of the patient’s medical history. This in turn helps the care team better diagnose and treat the patient and in turn, helps the patient better understand what’s going on and how to heal.
An additional benefit that has been realized, especially in the past year and a half, is better collaboration in the industry. At the onset, the Covid-19 virus was new and unfamiliar territory for many doctors. The symptoms were varied and often manifested differently in patients and therefore required different forms of care. Hospitals across the country and world found they needed ways to share information and looked to digital platforms to do so quickly and securely. It also became a way for patients to communicate with loved ones when visitors were not allowed.
The strides made in the past two years are significant and have been a long time coming. Despite any setbacks and hurdles, we are still seeing significant investment in this space – with projections that the global digital healthcare system could grow to a $660bn industry by 2025. That said, there is still progress to be made to make this projection a reality. A 2020 study by Boston Consulting Group found that 70 percent of digital transformation initiatives fail to effectively meet their goals without significant obstacles or less than ideal outcomes.
There is no one-size-fits all technology approach for every aspect of the industry. Healthcare companies and doctors will have to be creative and adaptable to find the best solution to fit their organizational and patient needs. That said, the groundwork has been laid, and with continued realization of the associated benefits to our daily lives, healthcare will hopefully continue to transform.