Healthcare beyond the pandemic: Mapping a sustainable future
From doctors and nurses in intensive care units caring for the sickest of the sick to scientists in laboratories looking for a seemingly elusive cure for this deadly disease, healthcare systems have been stretched beyond our imaginations.
And the challenges we have faced are certainly not over yet. In May 2020, we predicted the pandemic’s footprint would stretch across 4 waves, starting with the initial morbidity and mortality, then progressing to a backlog of delayed treatment for patients with urgent and chronic conditions. We also considered the psychological impact on society, including burnout of healthcare staff.
What we did not factor in at that point was the eruption of multiple variants of the virus. Nor did we understand the lasting impact of COVID, with 80% of patients developing 1 or more long-term symptoms. And the extent of vaccine hesitancy was certainly beyond the comprehension of those of us working in healthcare.
As we take tentative steps out of this pandemic, it’s important to reflect on what has worked well and can be used in the future. As identified in a recent Institute for Business Value (IBV) blog post, the core requirements for governments to transform and emerge stronger and more resilient—rapid innovation and agility, trust and transparency, security, and talent and transformation—are equally applicable to rebuilding the healthcare and life sciences sectors.
Building on those criteria, we believe there are 6 ways to help create a stronger, more resilient healthcare system:
1. Balance rapid innovation with a highly regulated framework
Early in the pandemic, finding a cure for COVID-19 was critical. Closer collaboration among academia, life sciences organizations, hospitals, payers, tech companies, and regulatory bodies resulted in a more streamlined innovation process. The lessons learned now need to be applied to the delivery of effective treatments in the future. For example, the design of clinical trials could be improved by using digital technology such as AI to analyze patterns across previous trials along with real-world data.
2. Build platforms supporting an ecosystem of healthcare partners
If we just digitize existing processes as a result of the pandemic, we will have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Future service design and delivery requires reimagining healthcare—making it more personal, collaborative, and integrated with and enabled by digital capabilities such as AI and cloud, in addition to other emerging technologies. We need design-driven technology, not technology-driven design.
3. Place the consumer at the heart of the healthcare ecosystem
Protecting individuals, particularly the old and vulnerable, from catching and spreading the virus has been a key objective for healthcare and governments. The industry quickly assembled apps to conduct contact tracing and keep individuals safe while also opening up society and allowing a level of freedom. For life after COVID, these chat and speech interfaces can be repurposed to triage individuals’ health concerns and direct them to the most appropriate healthcare professionals, with potential time, cost, and efficiency savings.
4. Reimagine healthcare delivery of the future
Virtual health services have been available for many decades, but it took a pandemic for healthcare professionals and patients to recognize the value of telemedicine. As we transition to a new normal, providers must help ensure their virtual infrastructure is robust and secure and fully integrated with other delivery channels. These platforms and services must be designed for all levels of digital literacy.
5. Consider wider societal issues in future plans
The pandemic led to the unexpected consequences of mental health problems and a loneliness epidemic amid multiple lockdowns—societal issues that had a lower priority than COVID treatments. Data and technology can be used to democratize access to virtual services, helping to reduce stigma, enhance engagement and continuity with treatments, and improve long-term outcomes.
6. Make security a top priority
Devices connected to cloud apps run the risk of exposing health networks to malware and other threats. With the growth of virtual consultations during the pandemic, keeping sensitive and personal patient records safe has become even more vital. Robust and borderless cybersecurity for healthcare can both prevent operational disruption and protect patient safety and privacy. Just as the goal of healthcare is wellness and prevention, the goal of cybersecurity is resilience and avoidance.
Finally, we believe the following four key actions can help build the healthcare ecosystem of the future:
1. Predict outcomes by optimizing data understanding. Scientists working on COVID-19 mined data and used modeling and simulation techniques to predict the impact of variants on disease progression and the vaccine programs.
2. Automate processes using AI technology. With long waiting times for in-person triage of COVID symptoms, the assistance of a virtual agent helped bolster the reliability and resilience of health services.
3. Secure and protect patient and operational data from cyber and physical threats—and keep healthcare and life sciences organizations running smoothly.
4. Modernize healthcare operations and supply chains through real-time, flexible access, helping to future-proof businesses.