COVID-19: Is There a Silver Lining for Healthcare?

Sanjay Mohan

A hundred years ago, the world experienced a health catastrophe that has been unparalleled – the “Spanish Flu.” The loss of life during that pandemic shook the fabric of our society and delivered major learnings that fundamentally reshaped the structure of healthcare systems, globally.

Until that time, disease had been considered a result of the natural degeneracy of the poor rather than a result of the environments they lived in. Public health had been all about isolating the elites from the “scourge” of the poor, and thus preventing the spread of disease in the society. That pandemic did not respect such social boundaries. The biggest structural impacts of the Spanish Flu included influencing governments worldwide to embrace the concept of socialized medicine and, more importantly, to define the role of the physician as one who not only cures illness but also suggests ways to prevent it.

Public health - as we know it today - was born.

Roll forward 100 years from today, and we will undoubtedly be looking back at the pain and anguish caused by COVID-19. Hopefully, we will also be observe changes that impacted our lives and the healthcare system as a result of the current pandemic. Here are some of them:

1. Heightened awareness of one’s own health: As with COVID-19, so also in many other health situations - in the absence of any pharmacological solution, the best course of action is to stay healthy. By being active and eating healthy, we can boost our immune systems and avoid many chronic health issues. The good news is that a large percentage of chronic issues are either preventable or manageable. A heightened self awareness of health and self-management will become part of the daily lives of a large percentage of human beings.

2. Engaging critically with community health: The current crisis has exposed capacity constraints in the healthcare system that prevent efficient and effective management of an event that impacts a large segment of the population. It has become evident that the traditional model of “the doctor will see you now” is not adequate and that healthcare - including patient-physician interaction - needs to move into the community and into people’s homes to ensure a healthy society. By using digital health channels, the healthcare system will evolve to provide a surveillance and prevention method that helps maintain a healthier society.

3. Prioritizing the health of healthcare workers: While the people on the front lines continue to do a tremendous job of taking care of us, who is taking care of their physical and mental health? Through the use of digital health technologies, healthcare systems will be redesigned to balance the load on the healthcare worker, reducing unnecessary utilization and fatigue. Digital health technologies

will provide a great way to prioritize clinical workload while keeping healthcare consumers engaged.

4. Gathering robust longitudinal data: The cornerstone of public health is data - data that can be used to study patterns as well as cause and effect relationships in the health of a society. While population health data collection has been going on at the federal level since 1957, data collection and use for individual benefit or society at large continues to be limited - in large part due to the fact that an average individual spends only 2 of the 5000 waking hours in a year with the healthcare system - generating a small amount of point-in-time data.

The time has come to leverage digital health technologies to improve the quality - and quantity - of data available. With increased geographical mobility of the population and changing lifestyles (including a highly switched-on and digital population), ease of data collection has changed. Use of digital health and remote monitoring technologies will expand dramatically aiding collection of robust longitudinal data. This in turn will also enable prediction and prevention of many health issues.

A healthcare revolution is approaching. This revolution will be made possible by the exponential growth in technology and technology platforms that can substantially

lower the costs of prevention and intervention. It is also driven by the changing consumer expectations of being treated anytime, anywhere, and with adequate transparency of a cost model that doesn’t dispropo

rtionately burden the society.This revolution will shift the emphasis of the industry from “sick-care” to true “health-care.” Perhaps COVID-19 just accelerated our journey towards the revolution.

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