These needs have pressed health professionals to speed the adoption of connected health solutions, telemedicine and sensor-based oversight of existing conditions. What, then, is the future of connected health in a post-COVID world?
The decentralization of healthcare
Technology is helping drive the decentralization of healthcare. We are seeing wide adoption among both health providers and patients. McKinsey previously ranked healthcare close to the bottom of all industries when it comes to digitization, but the pandemic has accelerated adoption of digital technologies, such as virtual care, the evolution of new care models and machine learning used in diagnostics and pathways.
The (virtual) doctor is in
Tragically, thousands of healthcare workers died as a result of COVID-19 infection during the pandemic. To enhance social distance, we have become accustomed to speaking with our doctors remotely. During the pandemic:
- 26,000 Canadian GPs began offering teleconsultations
- In Germany, 100,000 doctors started doing so
- In France, teleconsultations accounted for 28% of all April visits, up from 0.1% in March
- 63% of U.S. hospitals now use telemedicine, up from 20% prior
- U.S. hospital visits declined up to 60%
- Paladina Health reported a five-fold increase in U.S. teleconsultations
Raj Patel, Deputy Medical Director of Primary Care, NHS England, said: “Not only do remote appointments allow patients to consult their GP from the comfort of their own homes, it helps protect staff and patients by limiting exposure to infection.”
It is important to note the use of technology is also augmenting hospital care. Doctors in some U.S. hospitals now visit in-patients using iPads to mitigate risk, particularly with PPE in short supply.
Remote consultation technologies also enable more outpatient care (commonly known as healthcare at home, or HaH), limiting exposure to risk. During the pandemic, Mayo Clinic, Contessa Health and Intermountain Healthcare all introduced HaH programs in the U.S., while the NHS in the UK introduced the NHS at Home scheme. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently said, “all consultations should be teleconsultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to.”
New models, big investments
Health-related venture capital (VC) investments are burgeoning. The trends of these investments likely reflect future healthcare models. In the first half of 2020, on-demand healthcare startups raised around $1.1 billion in VC funding, and disease monitoring start-ups raised $831 million. Patient treatment, personal fitness and wellness and non-clinical workflow solutions also attracted investment. The largest “digital health deal in history” saw Teladoc acquire competitor Livongo for $18.5 billion.
New business models are emerging. U.S. pharmacy chain CVS will open 1,500 health hubs, offering a range of health services and on-demand video consultations, though they have no doctors in store. Walmart and Walgreens are making similar moves. Amazon has ramped up its prescription delivery service, Amazon Pharmacy. Practio raised $8.2 million to turn UK and German pharmacies into community points of care, providing vaccinations and COVID-19 tests.
Machine learning and AI
The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the development of machine learning models for predictive and diagnostic health. Over two-thirds of U.S. healthcare organizations are using AI, while 71% of health executives believe robotics will enable future services, Accenture claims.
How is this used? Like many digital healthcare providers, mental health service Ginger.io collects data during sessions, using this both to enhance patient outcomes and to build machine learning models to help deliver better outcomes for others.
The NHS uses cutting-edge predictive analytics models to predict coronavirus hospitalizations. Based on Bayesian hierarchical machine learning, the aim is to warn hospitals so they can pre-emptively divert resources to tackle local outbreaks.
Healthcare organizations use AI to automate processes, to screen and triage patients using chatbots, and to help manage supply chains. In the future, the human-machine collaboration will permeate every aspect of every organization, enabling the reinvention of healthcare delivery. This extends to robots. During the crisis, Denmark’s UVD Robots introduced a system to disinfect hospital rooms in just 10 minutes, and similar systems are in use elsewhere.
What about the data?
Mobile device data is already unleashing benefits to public health among nations using Apple and Google’s COVID-19 contact tracing tools. These empower users and governments while protecting privacy, enabling providers to control the virus by tracking contact spread more effectively.
Anyone with a fitness tracker already uses data to track personal performance. On some platforms (such as Apple Watch), this integrates with other apps and hardware and can be shared.
Of course, trust is the challenge when it comes to data collection. A recent survey found four out of five Americans believe the risk of data collection outweighs the benefits. Conversely, some governments relaxed health data protection in response to the pandemic, arguing for the need for medical information to be easy to transfer between providers.
The debate around data protection remains unresolved, particularly in democratic economies with populations resistant to unrestricted government surveillance. This suggests models that protect privacy while delivering actionable insights may yet win the argument.
Mental health is suffering
Personal mental health is suffering. Anxiety, depression and distress are endemic. Google searches for virtual mental health services experienced a massive spike at the start of the pandemic. Pandemic-related stress, loneliness, loss of loved ones, and huge increases in unemployment are taking their toll. First responders and healthcare workers are particularly impacted. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York estimates 25% will experience PTSD as a result of the outbreak. Many healthcare professionals plan to quit, posing further pressure on healthcare services.
Lockdown pressure is generating awareness. Aetna International claims 76% of remote workers would like employers to introduce policies to manage technology and screen time overuse, particularly as they struggle with the stressful division of domestic and professional time.
What is the future of healthcare?
In the future, your devices may warn of an incoming illness; your interaction with doctors may be virtual; and, if care is required, a robot may clean your room – even if you spend most of your recovery at home. You’ll visit the hospital for trauma and invasive medicine while other care delivery services are provided locally, virtually or in your community.
During the COVID-19 emergency, Orange Group provided support to hospitals and healthcare providers in France and internationally. Orange provided platforms to send mass texts and emails to communicate with health personnel, as well as rapidly deploying secure ID management to enable caregivers to access hospital software remotely. Orange Healthcare teams deployed new data management solutions such as sharing the number of available intensive care beds with regional health authorities. To help prevent medical teams from becoming overloaded, Orange-connected medical devices facilitated patient monitoring. And the Orange Patient Connect solution, for example, feeds data provided by electrocardiograms or oxygen pumps to a single screen.
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