The pandemic was good for something.
COVID-19 prompted expanded government reimbursement and the lifting of some regulations, resulting in an enormous amount of money flowing into digital health applications and start-ups. According to the Digital Health Funding report from venture capital firm Rock Health, COVID-19 “created what felt like a fast forward button for digital health innovation,” resulting in investments of $14.1B (versus $7.4B in 2019), an all-time high. Advancements in Telehealth, contact tracing, Artificial Intelligence, and security led the way.
Will all those advances have viability post pandemic?
Maybe not. Those created with a deep understanding of healthcare workflow and process will have the best chance to survive and prosper. During the pandemic, hospitals had no choice but to expand Telehealth, find ways for large numbers of people to work from home, and stand-up emergency field facilities in a fraction of the time and under unprecedented pressure to get it right the first time.
But what about now that the rush is over?
Complacency and cultural inertia have certainly curtailed initiatives after past crises. A recent article in This Week in Health IT questioned whether the impetus for technological advancement is still there or if 2020 was an aberration. Still, the article quotes a number of CIOs looking to invest further in artificial intelligence, solutions around clinician burnout, patient portals and engagement platforms, data analytics, and community outreach.
The Keys to Post-Pandemic Innovation: Interoperability and Patient Acceptance
Interoperability has always been the holy grail of healthcare technology advances and COVID-19 may have created an environment that makes common standards a reachable objective. Manufacturers and providers have had over a year to recognize the value of working together under pressure. Time will tell whether it’s enough to overcome the division.
As we’ve written in this space before, virtual care is here to stay, perhaps not at the levels we may have seen during the pandemic, but the technology is accepted now. It has crept into our lexicon and day to day behavior. Patients don’t hesitate to use it if an in-person visit is impractical or inconvenient. As MedCity News reports, “it is not the availability of technology that will govern how care is delivered. Rather, patients’ preferences, along with their underlying social needs, will determine which care delivery strategy that providers need to use to ensure optimal outcomes.”
Patients will continue to push for innovation post pandemic. Some will demand it more than others and for those who don’t, it’s incumbent upon healthcare industry leaders to provide a way to help encourage acceptance and utilization of digital tools. A human facilitator (a “Digital Healthcare Sherpa” if you will), could be an LPN or social worker visiting the home of an elderly patient, or a first responder serving the homeless population, can provide a bridge for digital access to a health care provider.
COVID-19 has opened the door on so many levels. In the end, the key to digital transformation will come through people providing insightful leadership.