Written By: Hulkar Egamberdieva
2020 is proving to be a most challenging year, having affected billions of people across the globe. With the world experiencing a healthcare crisis, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals working at the frontline of healthcare are deservedly being hailed as heroes. From the perspective of healthcare technology, the pandemic has been a catalyst for the process of the digitalisation of healthcare at an unprecedented global scale, forming a pivotal point in telehealth development. Ensuing lockdown measures cornered the healthcare industry, by limiting the traditional face-to-face contact accessibility, as if to say: “What solution will you come up with now that we have affected one of your core practices?”. To that the healthcare industry responded with - Telehealth.
The Digitalisation of Healthcare post-COVID
The main goal of the digitalisation of healthcare is to bring clinical practice to the homes of patients and not the other way around, as we are accustomed to do, and moreover, to do this efficiently and effectively; integrating it into healthcare infrastructure. From digital stethoscopes to thermometers the simulation of an in-person visit via virtual means is progressively striving towards being perfected. Using telehealth as a tool, healthcare professionals can be more efficient at their jobs and patients will no longer have to wait long lines for minor concerns.
On a global scale AI can be implemented in detecting future outbreaks and spreads of viruses. Tracker apps, such as the one adopted in New Zealand, can enable a quicker response rate and greater success in eliminating viruses by contact tracing. Interactive AI maps and new technologies can be utilised for faster detection, thus speeding up the search for adequate therapies and most importantly can be transparent and accessible to the public.
These can also be integrated into preventative care, which is the direction general health care is headed towards. Early prognoses would help the population’s most vulnerable in finding more sustainable solutions to their conditions as they will be informed early on; or whether they are predisposed.
Finally, digitalisation, although often misconceived, does not necessarily equate to the redundancy of healthcare workers such as doctors, in fact, when used effectively, it should improve their efficiency. A further advantage is that PPE can be saved for frontline workers who need them more than anyone. Moreover, with the consequences of COVID-19 the outlook on telehealth has changed- telehealth is an enhancer rather than a substitute.
With the acceleration of the digitalisation of healthcare it is important not to lose sight of both clear and obscure challenges. These include obstacles in legislature, inequality and security. It is vital that if we were to move into the new age of telehealth, that everyone would have access to it; rather than it being a privilege for the few. Although in terms of geography or mobility healthcare would be more accessible; high-speed internet or capable smartphones and devices are essential to telehealth success. An alternative solution could be the design of apps that are available for offline services. An ethical concern that has always been coupled with telehealth is privacy, where secure data exchange and user privacy has to be guaranteed.
Mental Health concerns in the post-COVID landscape
Undoubtedly one of the most significant challenges is mental health. Mental health should become a priority especially during a pandemic as we see spikes in COVID-19 related stress, anxiety and depression. Furthermore, this should not only be applied to the general population but in particular to healthcare workers; and more specifically frontline workers. Professional psychological support should be accessible, more widespread and cost-effective. For this to happen, mental health must be acknowledged as an issue in the first place, and proper education on the topic should be implemented.
With COVID-19, telehealth and remote therapies have been utilised for mental health care, however, unlike other conditions, this proves to be a greater challenge as there has to be a different, personalised approach when it comes to mental health patients. Therefore, at this stage, digital services ultimately could not replace in-person treatment in this case.
The world of healthcare post-COVID-19 will see numerous changes, adjustments and will evolve into an amalgamation of the new digitalised approach and the traditional methods. A stressful period for all, this will be the time to channel productivity and stay educated. This is an especially busy time for healthcare workers, telehealth providers, legislators and innovators who will all have to be on board for a new era of healthcare. The end goal – the creation of an integrated healthcare industry that is effective and sustainable for all.