Crises breed opportunities. While Covid-19 has strained our already vulnerable health systems, it has also opened a floodgate of ideas, innovations, and dialogues with the potential to set the future course of healthcare. In this article, I will outline some of the defining trends and changes that will be spurred by the crisis.
Technology will be widely adopted and democratized
The previous article highlighted the importance of the ‘Internet of Medical Things’ when battling Covid-19. It is noteworthy that our armory stocks many more mighty weapons—innovations and technologies such as genomic epidemiology, robotics, 3D printed medical supplies, blockchain-based initiatives for operational efficiencies, AI-enabled vaccine research, diagnosis and clinical triage engines to name a few – that are paving the way for a tougher health ecosystem.
The pandemic, while pushing the boundaries of research and engineering, has also brought these technologies outside of the universities and corporate labs and into more non-traditional settings such as hospitals and public health departments. For instance, New York’s largest healthcare group spanning 800 hospitals, Northwell Health, recently joined IBM’s blockchain-based network of buyers and sellers of coronavirus relief provisions.
As these technologies intertwine with the workflows and businesses processes, they will fundamentally alter the way healthcare is delivered today by democratizing innovation, decentralizing manufacturing, elevating the standards of care and in some cases, making the previously impossible treatments possible.
"It is through creating our own GPOs and supply chain, and joining forces with non-traditional suppliers, that we have maintained an adequate stockpile of personal protection equipment (PPE) and other supplies".
—Phyllis McCready, Northwell Health Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer
Closing the digital gap, Industry 4.0 will emerge stronger
Although it may sound counter-intuitive, once the crisis is over Industry 4.0 (and by extension Life-Science 4.0) will become even more relevant, since boardrooms and strategy roundtables can examine fresh use cases on efficiency and business model innovation.
Interoperability, automation & digitization of offline processes will be the new normal. Companies will also start exploring new and innovative ways of business process transformations through emerging technologies such as 5G for low latency, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for automating repetitive manual processes, AR / VR and mobile apps to enable employees to perform tasks they are not trained for, and AI/ML for intelligent simulations for efficiencies in R&D and commercial excellence.
The rigid commoditized approach will make way for a culture of transparency and open innovation, as the effect of these changes will be felt downstream in GTM, sales and customer engagement.
Organizations and health systems will become more patient-centric
Covid-19 has laid bare the unpleasant reality of our undue prioritization in managing sickness over well-being, while also highlighting the missing longitudinal care for the sick in absence of universal EHRs. The only viable way to change this paradigm is for governments and corporations to keep patients at the centre of their working models.
A patient-centric organization of the future will use patients’ needs and benefits as a litmus test for making policies and evaluating business models. This will then help organizations with seamlessly supporting their patients with information, technology and experience. They will create data strategies and platforms to generate insights and selectively disseminate them for patient empowerment, in collaboration with partners across sectors - payers, providers, technology players, advocacy groups, regulatory bodies etc.
Precision medicine and evidence-based care will get a boost in the medium to long run
Avoiding human errors in clinical decisions while treating patients and developing their evidence-based personalized care plans has long been a challenge for HCPs, especially when working under tight timelines and resources. While there has been a reliance on intelligent clinical decision support systems deployed to help Physicians and Nurses manage the information explosion and slow knowledge diffusion, a large section of HCPs remain either unaware or unconvinced of the power and usefulness of these tools. Having dealt with the Covid-19 crisis and realized the criticality of doing more (care) with less (resources), these HCPs will be likely more accepting of evidence-base care tools in the times to come.
When the dust around Covid-19 settles, fresh discourse will be needed between insurance and healthcare providers about the broader economics of false diagnosis, incorrect/suboptimal treatment and associated litigations, and how technology can be used to avoid the one-size-fits-all kind of approach our hospitals currently take.
New pricing models will come to the forefront
In the end it all comes down to access and price. Though it is not a direct impact of Covid-19, healthcare’s central role in global geopolitics will lead to a discussion on the access and price of healthcare going forward. At some point, the Pharma Industry will have to scrupulously analyze its research ROI models and Payers their reimbursements and perceived savings. And together they will have to work out an inclusive win-win model that allows uniform care access to everyone who needs it, while realizing savings on the opportunity cost, over a longer period, of hospitalization and treatment (that would be required if only the privileged few had access to the care). Similarly, faced with growing demands from hospitals to bring transparency in pricing of diagnostics tests, IVD companies will be have to develop price-per-test sales models instead of selling SKUs of assays and consumables.
Many of these changes were already underway, but Covid-19 will act as a catalyst either by accelerating or course correcting them for more relevant and functional use-cases. If healthcare has to be truly transformed, experts and companies from across the spectrum will have to work together, leveraging technologies, innovating working models and changing care paradigms.