What Healthcare can Learn About Digitization from COVID-19

July 21, 2020

Healthcare has always been evolving, but now it's evolving more than ever. What has changed are the trends in the health/tech space, the challenges CEOs are facing, and ways brands are improving convenience for the consumer.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry has had to digitize quickly to continue caring for patients while minimizing risk of exposure. Unfortunately, healthcare has historically been one of the industries least prepared to digitize; some payers and providers have only recently begun to update their information technology systems.

Within weeks, this crisis has highlighted to stakeholders why the industry needs to catch up. Here are some of the trends I’ve noticed as the industry makes the push to digitize amid COVID-19.

Adopting more healthtech

The healthcare industry has rushed to embrace and utilize health tech trends that facilitate quality care without risking further exposure.

For example, the Internet of Things (IoT) enables healthcare providers to (theoretically) monitor their patients remotely. IoT technology offers extraordinary untapped potential for the healthcare field, and is just beginning to be used in blood glucose monitors, pill dispensers, bed monitors, temperature monitors, portable EKG monitors, digital scales, bioimpedance devices and more.

With this data, physicians can create a “digital twin” of a patient - a virtual representation of the physical person. Doctors can create a patient profile using the data they’ve captured to track patient health over time without requiring a visit to the office.

If the industry can embrace more healthtech - including insurance providers and payers - patients can receive better care while remaining at home.

Consumer practices reach healthcare

Today’s consumers expect digital options in all areas of life, especially during a pandemic. The same expectations that apply to retail and professional services also apply to healthcare, but the industry has been slow to adapt.

Given the widespread use of video calls, telehealth has emerged as a solution that is both convenient and limits exposure. Telehealth has gone from being a supplemental offering to a critical resource within a few short weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) now encourage digital health solutions. Insurance providers - at least for the time being - are updating their policies to encourage remote care.

Telehealth allows providers to treat patients remotely during a crisis that has discouraged people from leaving the house. It also opens the possibility that patients can see providers from anywhere regardless of geography, meaning traditionally underserved patients can receive more care.

Challenges for leadership

Now that healthcare companies have been forced to fast-track technology projects due to COVID-19, leaders will need to embrace change. They must also acknowledge and accept that they are going to make mistakes. While leaders cannot guarantee success, they can work to limit the impact of failures.

Top concerns healthcare industry leaders will have to address include:

  • Cybersecurity: Amid the rapid shift to working from home, hackers have quickly found flaws in healthcare technology solutions.
  • Patient privacy: Patients must feel comfortable with technology solutions, which requires building trust.
  • Cost: Providers and payers (whether in a traditional or self-funded insurance model) must work together, more than ever, to keep costs down.

These concerns must be addressed, as they should not be the reason why a patient has to risk exposure to seek basic medical care. Fortunately, AI and big data will help leaders and doctors alike make critical decisions with more information.

The future of healthcare

At the heart of the push to digitize is the desire to improve the human experience. As members of the healthcare industry, we all ultimately want to do better for the human condition.

Once the pandemic has passed, what will the healthcare and healthtech industries look like? No one has the answer, but it cannot go back to the way it was. The time to appropriately digitize healthcare is now.

Terry Rowinski is CEO at Health Payment Systems.