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Will digital innovation in remote healthcare continue after the Covid-19 vaccine?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Fancycrave1 / Pixabay)

New customer expectations have exposed fundamental weaknesses in healthcare delivery during Covid-19, with concerns around the cost, access and equity of digital health.

Historically, the adoption of digital innovation has failed due to scaling and implementation frictions between conflicting stakeholders, such as regulatory hurdles and workflow integration. For digital transformation to be effective, practitioners must effectively integrate digital health technologies into their workflows to improve patient care. Before the pandemic, this was a key friction point in healthcare, as patients and practitioners didn’t feel there was a need for remote assessment due to slow-moving adoption and a lack of demand.

In 2019, less than one percent of GP appointments were done via video in the UK, with 80 percent of appointments taking place in-person. In Germany, a study in 2018 from Bertelsmann-Stiftung similarly highlighted a significant lack of patient engagement with digital health tools, as digital innovation failed to reach German patients due to inadequate digitization in the healthcare system.

This has all changed with Covid-19. The pandemic has caused a profound shift in the way healthcare is provisioned. Care delivery methods have been forced to adapt at speed to new demands for digital health, as there is now a necessity for the industry to engage with digital health. This has prompted the acceleration in adoption we have seen in digital healthcare over the past eleven months.

Our Digital Healthcare research report, which surveyed over 3,000 patients and over 300 GPs during Covid-19 across the UK, Germany and the Netherlands brings to light the rapid adoption of digital healthcare tools.

In the UK, over half of GPs were using video consultations and video examinations more than before Covid-19. While in Germany, nearly 9 in 10 GPs adopted video consultations during Covid-19, as GPs across the world adopted digital health to meet patient demands for remote alternatives to in-person care.

As the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines provide protection, the healthcare industry has the opportunity to embrace digital innovation and improve patient outcomes as we enter a post-coronavirus world. The future of healthcare, nonetheless, is uncertain. Will patients return to normal levels of physical treatment, or will the shift in patient behavior caused by the pandemic continue?

Will digital adoption continue post-vaccine?

In the future, patients and practitioners are heading in a similar direction when it comes to digital health. Digital adoption in Europe looks set to continue to thrive in a post-Covid-19 world, as local doctors and patients in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands understand the importance of driving technological innovation following their experiences during Covid-19.

In the UK, over three-quarters of UK GPs recognize that digital tools including remote monitoring, telemedicine, video consultations, video examinations, applications, and wearable tech will be important to the future of medicine. A similar level of sentiment exists in the Netherlands, where over two-thirds of GPs believe that video examinations and wearable tech will be important.

However, Germany is leading the way in embracing digital health. Based on our findings, all German GPs are likely to use remote monitoring and video examinations as essential tools for the future of healthcare post-Covid-19. This highlights how Covid-19 has taken away much of the historic reticence in digital healthcare adoption, galvanizing clinicians to reap the benefits of digital tools.

For patients, our research also shows that future preference for digital health is high. In the UK, over half of patients would consider using remote consultations in the future after their experience during Covid-19. This is likely due to the convenience of digital healthcare tools, which many patients experienced during Covid-19 for the first time, with more than half of UK patients reporting that digital tools led to quicker access to their GP than normal.

In Germany and the Netherlands, more than 2 in 5 patients would also consider using remote consultations in the future, as patients who experienced digital tools during Covid-19 saw the benefits and would therefore embrace digital tools for treatment post-Covid-19.

Building on the first generation of digital healthcare tools

The healthcare industry has an opportunity to embrace digital innovation by building on the momentum caused by the fundamental shift in behavior during the pandemic. That’s not to say that in a post-Covid-19 world it will just be about using more digital technology or technology for technology’s sake.

Instead, we need to ensure we build on the first generation of digital tools, as the pandemic has also highlighted issues with the current legacy portfolio, such as wearable technology, mobile applications and video.

Most notably there are significant barriers to adoption around privacy, monitoring and technical issues. Over half of UK GPs reported technical issues when using telemedicine, video consultations, video examinations, remote monitoring and mobile applications. For patients, concerns around privacy and monitoring were most significant, with nearly half of German patients concerned about using wearable tech due to worries about being monitored while using the technology.

As a result, in a vaccinated world, these technological challenges should be addressed, with a greater focus on technology that removes frictions in the patient-clinician relationship, specifically surrounding privacy concerns.

The future of healthcare: Human-centric digital innovation

The future of healthcare requires a blended approach that harnesses the benefits of disruptive, digital technology that were highlighted in our research, most notably around accessibility, convenience and reduced cost.

However, we must also retain elements of face-to-face care when needed. This can be achieved through prioritizing human-centric digital solutions. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, we were already seeing the benefits of human-centric digital healthcare. Working with the Princess Máxima Center, a fully specialized hospital for children’s oncology, we developed a digital application providing interactive support for families during the different phases of a cancer diagnosis. This allowed families to integrate treatment, as much as possible, into their daily lives.

Personalized digital healthcare solutions will be at the heart of patient care in the future. Digital innovation in healthcare has the potential to reduce inefficiencies in healthcare delivery, improve access to patient care and the quality of treatment. This can be achieved by taking a blended approach to healthcare, combining digital and physical treatment pathways.

Teun Schutte, Managing Consultant of Digital Strategy Healthcare, Mobiquity (opens in new tab)

With 20 years' experience in digital healthcare and a specialism in respiratory illnesses, Teun is an authority on creating personalised healthcare solutions. Before Mobiquity, Teun spent 13+ years at GlaxoSmithKline.