It has been more than 7 months since the first COVID-19 case was reported, and it is truly overwhelming how much has changed in a relatively short time – and how eager the world is to move past it. However, the reality is that we will have to live with this disease for a long period and we need to start planning for and thinking about the future of healthcare delivery. What are the lessons learned during the pandemic and how can we use these learnings to tackle the challenges that healthcare was facing long before Covid-19 appeared on our doorstep, now intensified through an enormous debt of healthcare not delivered? Fundamental changes have been ignited during the pandemic and it is a matter of will to cement them into “the new normal.
It is easily accessible to see why these changes happened: All of a sudden, gathering many people at physical locations was deemed highly dangerous. As a result, patients were advised to stay away from hospitals and GP practices. When healthcare providers realised that care cannot be delivered in physical hubs anymore, they were compelled to find other ways to take care of patients – and stopping healthcare delivery altogether is never an option. Of course, during this time, digital healthcare became a natural choice.
Today, many healthcare professionals, as well as patients, have made their first digital interactions. For many potential users of digital healthcare, that is the first barrier, as we have consistently seen that the most sceptical group towards online consultations is the individuals who have not tested it. We have also seen however that this sceptical attitude quickly turns positive after the first interaction and in a twist of serendipity, this is where we are at now. From now on, we will see patients requesting online consultations and healthcare professionals with a lower threshold to use technology. However, as patients get more accustomed to digital healthcare, they will also increase their expectations on quality and delivery of care via digital channels. This is when healthcare providers need to be on their toes and provide such services with a strong focus on user experience – It is time to put patients in the centre of healthcare and that requires a 180˚ shift from the conversations healthcare was having prior to the pandemic.
Resetting the conversation
The previous conversation topic among healthcare providers was ‘How do we keep the patients away?’, which is a natural response when the workload is overwhelming and healthcare providers are eye to eye with the challenge. However, the pandemic unveiled that the same job has to be done sustainably in the long run and without increasing the costs: In a few words, the same the incoming flow cannot be pushed out anymore and has to be treated before each respective condition become too severe – hence too costly. The narrative that fits this solution is ‘how do we keep the patients healthy?’, ‘how do we make sure that this patient’s interaction with the healthcare system is as smooth as possible?’. The future of healthcare is about healthcare providers rethinking their value delivery as well as the advantages of new possibilities to make the overall delivery better.
This is where digital transformation –of processes, delivery, and interaction– transcends a few sporadic online consultations and comes into play. What healthcare can achieve with the new shift towards digital transformation is to empower the patients to be part of the healthcare delivery and to move a lot of the work to them – and patients will be happy to do so, as we have already seen from many other industries. But that requires a mind-shift in healthcare to start trusting patients and giving them the right tools to take over part of the job. The topic of inclusion and uptake is fully relevant here: This transformation should not be expected to work blindly for everybody, namely for patients who are far too ill or do not have the possibility to take a digital pathway. Nevertheless, a lateral approach does not necessarily equal a patient-centric approach: The ‘digital-first’ system in healthcare should not be designed for the ones who do not want access to digital healthcare at all – it should be accessibly designed for the large majority that can participate, thus freeing up resources to care for the group that needs extra attention in a more analogue way.
Time to build up
The digital healthcare tools that will carry this vision to the future – and naturally, where I aspire and work towards Visiba Care’s platform to be – will be in the centre of enabling the interaction between the patient and healthcare. But for the fundamental change that applies to the new narrative, the actions forward go way beyond digitalising appointments for common ailments of the general healthy population. The groups with the most interaction with healthcare, the elderly and the chronically ill, should be a central aspect of the new healthcare delivery. An elderly person or a patient with a chronic condition currently receives some part of care or treatment from home, part of it from primary care, and another part from secondary care. Today, these patients experience this as 5 or 6 healthcare deliveries. My hope for the next day of healthcare is this patient experience will be perceived as simply ‘receiving care’, regardless of who delivers it. From their side, naturally, the healthcare professionals involved should be given the most appropriate tools to be just as seamlessly aligned around each case at all times.
Shifting the gear towards ‘digital-first; physical when wanted‘ is more than just the essence the patient-centric care concept – it is also vastly beneficial for healthcare providers. As the changes triggered by the pandemic become normalised and we start looking into healthcare in the long run, the horizon in focus is shifting from reactive care, i.e. treating a condition, to proactive care and resource-saving prevention: Keeping the population healthy, moving the majority of care from central locations to as close to home as possible, or even in the home.
We have already seen our customers innovating their healthcare delivery. These healthcare innovators have realised that many times, they can create a better healthcare outcome for their population by using the advantages of digital technology. The topic of how a digital appointment was not as effective as a physical meeting is a discussion of the past. Now healthcare is realising that, in many contexts, a digital appointment can actually be better than a physical meeting; In many other contexts, it is equally sufficient. Patients can save hours by removing the travel and waiting time and avoid swarming in a crowded location that puts them at risk of infection. Healthcare can easily take away an average of 30% of the physical interactions – to free up the resources for the patients who require an analogue approach and to take a population health approach in action, not just in opinion pieces. A tremendous amount of preparatory work has been done during the pandemic and the conditions for fundamental change are set for all of us who are active in healthcare – digital and analogue. Let’s take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity and the admirable work that has already been done to make a lasting change for the better and create the new, patient-centric and resource-saving healthcare delivery.