In the Covid-19 era, healthcare providers had to undergo rapid shifts to keep pace with the requirements for social distancing. Doctors and healthcare centers had to change their way of providing service to patients and adopted technology faster than ever.

Telehealth on the rise

According to a new survey by McKinsey, consumer adoption of telehealth in the US has skyrocketed post-COVID-19, from 11% patients using telehealth in 2019 to 46% now using telehealth instead of going for in-person appointments, in order to avoid exposure to coronavirus.

The survey also shows that healthcare providers and hospitals have scaled their tech offerings and are seeing more than 50% to 100% increase in the number of patients via telehealth than pre-COVID-19. Even medical centers who previously did not have any telehealth or virtual services are now using technology to meet their patients’ needs. Also, 64% of doctors and healthcare providers say they are getting more comfortable with telehealth than they were previously before the pandemic.

The virtual healthcare model here can include any or all of the following:

  • Live video or phone interactions between doctor and patient replacing office visits.
  • Provider-to-provider transmissions, for example, exchange of lab test results/x-rays between diagnostic/pathology labs and doctors.
  • Provider-to-patient transmission where the doctor can share the patient’s medical records and perform follow-ups via email or text.
  • Patient self-service where patients can access medical records, test results, and prescription refills securely online 24/7.
  • E-triage where patients can view their options of scheduling doctor appointments/care based on symptoms or severity of the case, which reduces the number of visits they may need to make to the doctor’s office.

Virtual health platforms or tools are especially beneficial for patients with chronic conditions. They generally need to attend frequent appointments, undergo regular diagnostic testing, and maintain and monitor complex medication schedules. This puts patients at risk for infections with every visit. An earlier study published in the Academic Emergency Medicine medical journal also found that about 38% of in-person visits for chronic conditions can be transferred to a virtual health care platform.

Health monitoring with wearables

Wearable technology is getting more popular with people across age groups. While the trend began with fitness trackers for the more health-conscious customer, it is now adopted by

patients that are high risk or have chronic conditions like diabetes and so on, to monitor vitals and be alert before any medical emergency. Some of the most common devices are heart rate sensors, sweat meters (used by diabetic patients to monitor blood sugar levels and oximeters (devices that monitor oxygen levels in the blood for patients with respiratory illnesses). According to some forecasts, the wearable medical device market is expected to reach upwards of $27 million by 2023.

Leveraging data with digital therapeutics

Healthcare start-ups are innovating with new tools, platforms, and products that use artificial intelligence, IoT, big data, and sensors to help doctors treat patients with a diverse set of health conditions. For example, there are digital therapy platforms that will use neurological music therapy and AI to treat patients who need to rebuild motor skills. There are apps that can conduct ECGs.

Another important aspect of digital health is the gamification of health apps. Reviews have shown that health apps with exciting game-play elements incentivize and motivate patients to improve their health by undertaking activities like exercising and so on. Additionally, large tech companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon are also making big inroads into healthcare with their data gathering and analytics capabilities to help users track their health with their smartphones.

It is expected that the current dynamics in the healthcare services sector is likely to remain in place for the next 12 months. This is because globally, concerns over Covid-19 are likely to persist even if a vaccine is introduced early. It is therefore expected that virtual health offerings would become a more integral part of healthcare services in the future.