Peter Jobes is a tech & blockchain writer. Featured in VentureBeat.
Over the past year, the healthcare industry has been through a significant period of challenge and change. At the forefront of this difficult landscape has been the incredible efforts and commitment shown by those dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant advancements in technology that have helped to transform the way patients are cared for.
(Image above showing digital transformation by industry caused by Covid. Image: Statista)
The greater use of technology to reduce face-to-face contact and manage demand has been one of the key developments of 2020. This includes the increased use of pre-existing technology and platforms like video consultations and online courses in primary and secondary care, the wider use of devices and apps for remote working, the development of virtual wards, the increased use of Electronic Prescribing Services, and the wider use of healthcare websites and information services.
However, the pandemic has also seen us turn to more advanced technologies and platforms, like the use of booking appointments and accessing patient records via apps, the rollout of video conferencing software to enable remote working and collaboration, with more professional-to-professional support for clinical decision-making and the use of AI-driven image analysis to diagnose and monitor the progression of COVID-19.
(Image: The Economist)
As we can see from the table above, technology within healthcare will develop exponentially in the wake of the pandemic, with care delivery taking up around 50% of what is set to develop into a $600 billion dollar market by 2024.
But how will this new era of healthcare be implemented following a transformative health crisis? And can it adapt to the rapidly changing needs of patients? Let’s explore how technology can help global healthcare providers to recover from such a significant historical event:
Although the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic came with a deep uncertainty, ongoing work into the causes, mechanisms and mortality of the disease have helped to create valuable healthcare data. By the start of December 2020, researchers from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health had created a Coronavirus mortality risk calculator to estimate the potential of severe outcomes for individuals and better inform the rollouts of vaccines.
Although created amidst a severe health crisis, the potential for predictive analytics in healthcare is extremely exciting.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here. Teams have improved their disease tracking and risk management,” explained Susan Snedaker, information security officer at Tucson Medical Center and interim CIO for TMC HealthCare. “As information evolved, a lot of people were digging into the data to see if they could predict outcomes for patients or treatment plans that were being created on the fly. They saw the value of quick-moving data.”
Snedaker anticipates that once the pandemic passes, the value surrounding predictive analytics within healthcare will remain, but adoption won’t be quite as quick as the COVID-19-fuelled growth and instead will be “slower and more thoughtful.”
(Image: Allied Market Research)
Although predictive analytics within the field of clinical healthcare may progress at a slower rate, other wider applications within the market will continue to grow rapidly over the first half of the decade, with financial data analytics growing some 300%.
Previously, medicine had something of a one-size-fits-all approach to health. For instance, the Body Mass Index (BMI) suggests the ideal body weight of an individual based on their gender and height but fails to take into account healthy tissue or muscle mass which could impact readings.
Technology will enable patients and doctors to better understand their health by accumulating large volumes of data that are unique to them, including factors like blood pressure, average heart rates, blood sugars, oxygen saturation and more. Doctors will be capable of viewing a patient’s overall health over the course of a year, rather than a simple snapshot of their respective health in a single surgery visit.
The development and refinement of this technology are particularly important as individuals become impacted in different ways by the pandemic. The past year has carried significant psychological effects on patients which may fundamentally alter their behaviour - and subsequently, their health.
As our diets, nutrition, and activity levels change as a consequence of remote working and social distancing, the need for more holistic health driven by technology is vital in helping doctors to better understand how the behaviour of individuals is shifting and what the implications of these changes can be.
The future of healthcare in the wake of such a disruptive pandemic is far from certain. The biggest barrier to ensuring doctors have the most complete medical history on any patient, at every point of care, is the lack of interoperability among systems that prevent data and electronic health records from following a patient throughout their care journey. This can result in a more fragmented view of a patient’s health which is potentially lacking in vital information when the need for emergency treatment arises.
Bringing this information together is likely to be a manual and time-consuming process. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us to a pivotal moment in time where the healthcare industry has the chance to identify and work to fix the key problems that affect the systems within the industry - with much research, health systems, governments, and enterprises combining efforts and sharing data to better understand and combat the health crisis.
2021 and the years that follow as we emerge from the pandemic will provide us with an opportunity to evaluate interoperability and data sharing approaches to determine how the industry can work together to offer better care and save lives globally.
In a world that has gained a greater understanding of the power of embracing technology and collaborating on a global scale, modern technology may ultimately benefit significantly from the lessons learned as a result of COVID-19.
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