Digital operations: how COVID has changed the face of global healthcare

By Jamie Whysall, - HealthcareInsight

I think it’s fair to say COVID-19 has shone a light on the best in the healthcare industry, across the globe.

We’ve all been watching the headlines, and it’s incredible to see how professionals worked together over the last few months. From discovering new treatments through to pioneering research, the pace of innovation has been mind-blowing.

But let’s be honest: we’ve also seen things that could be done better. And now is the time to reflect and consider, ‘how can healthcare improve to build future resilience?’

One of the biggest barriers to innovation is regulation. Healthcare is one of the most regulated industries in the world. These regulations need to be tamed – and not just used as a scapegoat for lack of innovation.

Even without factoring in a second wave of infections, COVID’s legacy will continue to be felt because of the huge backlog of non-pandemic related cases that have been put on hold during the crisis.

Let’s look at the NHS as an example. Before the pandemic, our health service was working through around three million cases. Today, this has increased to eight million – none of which are COVID-related.

Again, even assuming we won’t be hit by a second wave, this is a huge backlog. And the only way to deal with it is to cut through the red tape blocking innovation.


Thinking outside the box

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in healthcare is the reliance on physical interaction.

Despite there being viable alternatives generally, healthcare always comes back down to the same thing: a patient physically visiting a hospital/GP’s surgery. This is healthcare’s default position, and changing it is no simple task.

The biggest impact of COVID is that it removed that reliance on physicality. All of a sudden, professionals had no choice: they had to think outside the box.

Necessity breeds invention. It’s because of this restricted environment that alternative processes came into play: telemedicine, remote health monitoring and video appointments. What was once a nice-to-have at best has now become critical in order to carry on offering care. And it’s this push which is shaping a brand-new patient engagement model.

The shift is critical for tackling both COVID-19 and the backlog. But we should also think about the benefits to patient experience.

The same as being on the phone to a customer services department, no one actually wants to engage with healthcare services. We do it because we are sick or ill. So any churn is adding further inconvenience to an activity that, really, nobody wants to do.

Digital therefore has huge benefits for patient experience and healthcare relations. The ability to simply have a ten-minute phone call with a GP instead of a three-hour round trip to the surgery is an absolute game changer.

Importantly, in a post-COVID world, I don’t think this option is going to be taken away. Patients are enjoying having a new ways to engage healthcare workers, and there’s no real reason to return to the old ways.


A digital foundation

One of the major areas where healthcare has traditionally been unable to invest is technology. From video conferencing to remote monitoring and tracking PPE equipment, a robust digital core that can scale during times of crisis is instrumental in enabling healthcare services to meet demand.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen first-hand how, when the investment is there, technology can enable healthcare services to achieve great things. At the beginning of the lockdown, we helped one European Government Agency to mobilise and enable remote working for up to 40,000 healthcare professionals – giving them access to critical applications and patient healthcare records anytime, anyplace and this was all delivered in 72 hours. This really helped them adapt during a quickly evolving situation.

Cloud in particular is having a huge impact. And a common thread across all industries – not just healthcare – is those that are cloud-ready have fared much better.

I think the challenge going forward for healthcare providers is either to double down on their cloud investments, or work through the red tape that’s stopping them innovating.

Overall, I see a positive future for healthcare. There’s so much pent up innovation bursting to be let loose. And if any good has come from COVID, it’s been to shake the industry out of its inertia and start turning the wheels of change.

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