The world has changed in the past 18 months since the coronavirus pandemic hit. It’s no surprise that terms like ‘new normal‘ and ‘unprecedented’ were used regularly in news reports, work meetings, social media posts and everyday conversations.
But what impact has COVID-19 had on the world of digital healthcare?
We know that medical facilities across the globe have been bombarded since it hit but what lessons have been learned and what trends and new ways of working are we seeing off the back of the pandemic.
Let’s take a look…
1. The Rise Of Virtual Healthcare
The first trend I’ll take a look at is the rise of virtual and on-demand healthcare. We all became experts in video conferencing through necessity last year (either for work purposes or to join a weekly family Zoom quiz). This has led to an increase in the number of virtual consultations patients are having with their doctors.
The advice when COVID started was to only visit your GP if you had been told to in order to limit exposure and this advice is still in place over a year later. Now more and more telephone and video appointments are taking place as it provides a safe way for some people to talk through their issues with a doctor.
In the UK 70% of GP consultations were done remotely (compared to 25% for the previous year), and in the USA the uptake was incredibly fast; in April 2020 43.5% of primary care visits were done via phone compared to 0.1% just two months previously.
Going forward I can only see this trend continuing. Like many aspects of life during the pandemic the pivot to how services are offered has only sped up what was always inevitable.
As people lead busy lives the ability to video chat to a doctor wherever they are means it will be the preferred option going forward. No need to take time off work to attend appointments as the technology is there in everybody’s smartphone. There are environmental benefits too of virtual healthcare as it means less driving to doctors and fewer cars trying to get parked. Also being able to avoid sitting in a waiting room with other patients will be preferable as the pandemic has made us wary of every little cough or sneeze from other people.
The technology is there and people are comfortable using it, so it makes sense to continue to use remote consultations
2. Remote GPs Here To Stay
The previous trends feeds into the next one: on-going remote GPs.
Many doctors have embraced this new way of working and it feels like the old traditional ways of seeing patients one-by-one in a room could (for some) be a thing of the past as they move towards a completely remote setup. During the pandemic it also helped keep GPs safe and manage their large workloads.
Obviously not all doctors will be moving to a 100% remote model as many still enjoy the face-to-face interactions with patients and for some cases and patients remote consultations aren’t possible. What I think we’ll see, much like the rest of the working world will adopt, is a hybrid setup where doctors are clinic based for a couple of days and then remote for the others allowing them the best of both worlds.
A hybrid model allows the less serious cases to be triaged into remote virtual consultations and therefore leaving more time for the face-to-face appointments where patients may require more time and reassurance.
3. Increased Symptom Searching
They always say “don’t google your symptoms” as you’ll end up diagnosing a sneeze as a tropical disease only found in the tribes of the Amazon jungle.
Usually due to this people avoided diagnosing themselves via Dr Google, however this year people have inevitably been focusing more on their own health and this has led to increased searching for the symptoms. These three images below show the fluctuations.
Searches for “Dry cough” in 2020 in the UK:
Searches for “High Temperature” in 2020 in the UK:
Searches for “loss of taste” in 2020 in the UK:
In an era of fake news and people blindly sharing unsubstantiated stories they’ve found on social media it was important that there were trusted sources of information around to help supply correct answers for these searches. In UK we had a dedicated area on the NHS site with all the official information set up and in America the CDC set up an official site with other countries following suit.
4. A Big Jump In The Wearable Medical Tech Market
Following on from the previous trend, this increased interest in their own health led to a big rise in people purchasing wearable medical devices to monitor their own health.
In 2018, in a pre-COVID world the worldwide global market for wearables was $8.9 billion.
By the end of 2021 it is expected to have grown 139% to $21.3 billion worldwide and grow further to $111.9 billion by 2028.
So expect to see more and more smart watches, Fitbit’s, Wearable ECG Monitors, Blood Pressure Monitors, Biosensors etc in use.
“The wearable medical devices market is expected to grow 1157.3% from 2018 to 2028”
5. Preparing For The Next Pandemic
According to leading virologists “Another one is coming. It’s just a matter of when.”
This may seem pessimistic as we’re still elbow deep in the current pandemic but it illustrates the final trend, which is that people are preparing themselves already for the next pandemic (and I don’t mean stockpiling more toilet paper!).
Technology is going to play a major part in these preparations.
Recently a global database was created attempting to rank the risks posed from wildlife. Also technology can help us be better prepared next time to identify threats earlier. The use of algorithms to analyse big data can help speed this up next time, for example like Canadian company BlueDot did by using AI to uncover first warnings of the spread of coronavirus.
Biopharmaceutical companies are also investing in technology to ensure in the event of another pandemic they will be able to roll out any potential vaccines at a much faster rate.
Find out more
What other trends in digital healthcare have you noticed since the pandemic started?
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