Rarely has the world been forced to remake itself in quite the same way as what the Covid-19 pandemic has done. For more than a year now, every sphere of our modern life has had to compromise in ways that were previously unthinkable – the stop-start restrictions on international (and domestic) travel, the forced closure of schools and businesses, the enforcement of mask mandates – the list goes on.
It goes without saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has also been a major catalyst for change in the healthcare sector. The modern U.S. healthcare system has never experienced a shock quite like the Covid-19 crisis in its relatively short history. Even European countries, many of which have adopted a socialized healthcare format, are buckling under the overwhelming ferocity of the virus. This once-in-a-lifetime pandemic came to kill and destroy, and that it did.
The Covid-19 pandemic sent an unmistakable message to healthcare systems around the world: buck up and evolve, or face the music. This has accelerated the move of healthcare from the physical space (clinics, hospitals, in-person consultations) to the digital space (apps, websites, virtual consultations).
The Rise of Telemedicine
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, the U.S. government allowed opioid addiction medication (buprenorphine) to be prescribed via telemedicine for the first time. This is a no-brainer: with severe Covid-19 restrictions in place last year, many patients recovering from opioid addiction simply could not make the trips needed to their local clinic – some of which are situated far away – to get their medications refilled. However, the approval of telemedicine for this purpose does beg the question: if telemedicine is safe, convenient, and reliable, why not use it more often for non-emergency situations? Wouldn’t telemedicine make healthcare that much more accessible to everyone, including the disabled and the elderly?
Yes it does. The rise of telemedicine users all around the world serves as a resounding vote of confidence from the public. The telemedicine market was $41.63 billion (USD) in 2018; it is expected to reach $396.76 billion (USD) by 2026. Experts are calling it the “telemedicine boom.” Telemedicine is increasingly popular because it lowers barriers to healthcare access, especially among the most vulnerable members of society. As an expert aptly puts it, “the patient will no longer be patient” in their expectations; patients expect shorter waiting times, quicker test results, and better healthcare. Telemedicine may be just the solution.
The Normalization of Digital Healthcare
Another clear digital health trend that has emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic is the increasing reliance on the digital space for authoritative healthcare information. As the Covid-19 virus adapts and evades, new variants are discovered and new locations become the latest hotspots, causing government advice to change constantly. All this means that the public is accustomed to relying on their phones and laptops to keep up with the latest information and guidelines regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of course, this has also allowed fake news to proliferate like never before. Anti-vaxxers, once a fringe group, has found a new audience that is ready to listen to anything that whiffs of fear and conspiracy. This is indeed a challenge that both governments and tech companies need to confront. However, the greater involvement and acceptance of society regarding digital healthcare represents a massive opportunity as well. If the right investments are made now, we could live in a future in which people receive the latest and best scientific guidelines through apps and notifications. Principal investigators and academic medical centers (AMCs) can get their latest findings straight into the hands of consumers, making for a more informed society better at making more informed choices about their own health.
The Digital Age Is Here
The evidence is beyond doubt: the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a “digital revolution” in healthcare. Patients are happier to be treated via telemedicine and are more receptive to receiving the latest healthcare information digitally. This means that if you work for an AMC or are involved in a digital healthcare platform business, now is the time to seize the moment and invest in the software you need to win the future.
Here comes the tricky bit: the development of software is incredibly expensive; having one that works without glitches for a mass audience is even more so. Studies show that developing new, high-quality apps often cost between $100,000 to $1,000,000 to develop, not to mention the ongoing costs of maintaining them. This means that new players are instantly priced out of the market before they even begin.
Pattern Health provides a complete solution for researchers and innovative healthcare providers to create and validate their programs, and when appropriate, support their efforts to translate their research into commercially scalable solutions. Our solutions allow healthcare providers and researchers to easily launch new programs, collect and analyze data, as well as increase user utilization via data-driven personalization – all at a fraction of the cost.
While the Covid-19 pandemic will pass as a serious global health threat sooner or later, the digital trends that it has accelerated are here to stay, and so are the innovations and inventions that it has spurred. The digital age has truly arrived – and it is more colorful, more powerful, and more integrated than we could have ever imagined.