COVID-19 and the Digital Reform of the Healthcare Industry

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There is a saying which reads, “health is not valued until sickness comes”; a point which, perhaps, the coronavirus has helped to drive home. Health, right now more than ever, is wealth, and the importance of those personal and social factors which help individuals to live long, healthy lives, are now under a spotlight of revitalized focus. We know that, with the right preventative practices in place, along with access to critical resources, we can help to fortify our bodies against unexpected threats and ensure that wellness and disease prevention exist at the forefront of our lives. And although COVID-19 has taught us that there are some battles we simply can’t avoid, a health-centric approach to life certainly never hurt anyone.

So, the question becomes, how do we solidify that fortune in the coming months and years? As COVID-19 continues to change the economic landscape for countless industries around the globe, what does the pandemic mean for healthcare? What health and wellness trends have emerged from this experience, to inform a more health-conscious path forward? 

Armed with a mixture of global data pulled from survey respondents aged 16-64 from August 2019 to March 2020, the Digital Healthcare Report has pieced together feedback from over 14,318 panelists to detail the evolution and digitization of healthcare. 

Here are some of the surprising insights this report has revealed.

The Digital Future of Healthcare

The first, and perhaps most important insight derived from the report reveals that consumers are placing increased emphasis on the maintenance of their health, with an understanding that exercise is only one part of wellbeing. Fortunately, health-focused technology is helping to accelerate this agenda, offering users apps that make it easy for users to take more control over their health on devices they use every day, and without ever booking a doctor’s appointment. In 2012, 11% of internet users said they used a health and fitness app in the last month, rising to 26% in 2019. This represents a growth of 136%; revealing a trend of new technologies like AI, telehealth, and wearables helping to relieve some of the strain healthcare sectors face around the world.

The digitization of wellness management extends to the realm of mental health, where apps could prove extremely valuable in making critical resources far more accessible (and affordable) to the masses. This represents an important shift, as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that 1 in 4 people in the world will be affected by mental health conditions at some point in their lives. As the healthcare industry becomes increasingly burdened, digital apps provide an alternative route for consumers to be able to get the treatment and support they need.

A More Holistic Approach to Wellbeing

Also of interest, is the shift in perspectives demonstrated by those polled for the study, in what practices constitute good health. The report found that around two-thirds of consumers associate “being healthy” with getting enough sleep and taking care of their mental health (indicating that these were more important than diet or physical fitness). 

The survey also found that 63% of Gen Z and 65% of millennials agree they try to buy natural/organic products –the highest of all generations and a rising demand for a range of alternative therapies (such as intermittent fasting, aromatherapy, homeopathy, ASMR, and more), with 47% of respondents believing that alternative therapies are effective for health generally. 

Widespread Adaptation of Wearable Technology

Across industries, the demand for enhanced convenience is a primary driver of technological innovation. So, it should come as no surprise that wearable fitness technology (such as smartwatches and fitness trackers) has increased in popularity, and is now being adopted by a growing number of consumers. From tracking heart rates to providing a detailed breakdown of sleep quality or recovery data, or simply sending data directly to a user’s doctor, wearables provide an incredibly convenient way for consumers to proactively monitor and manage their health. 

Digital Health Technology

The healthcare industry is changing at a rapid pace and, fortunately, the advent of new technologies (such as artificial intelligence and telehealth) is helping to pave the way to a more affordable and accessible future of healthcare.

Among U.S. consumers, the primary health concern is infectious diseases/viruses (59%), which is expected given the sharp escalation of COVID-19 around the globe. Rising healthcare costs is another significant challenge in the U.S. for over 51% of consumers. Understandably, these concerns warrant an increased willingness to embrace digital technologies.

From a telehealth perspective, research reveals that 6 in 10 consumers believe that digital health appointments are effective in managing the spread of the virus and close to half would consider using digital health services if they were available (12% already do). 

Now, what about AI technology? 

Could we soon be booking appointments with an AI robot, rather than a human doctor? According to the report, this might not be such a far-fetched concept. Around 3 in 5 consumers agree AI and machine learning will reshape the healthcare environment within the next 10 years. Their research highlights that the perceived benefits of AI among consumers are mainly centered around its ability to offer greater preventative care and generate greater efficiency. We’re also witnessing the evolution of an AI-designed drug that entered human clinical trials in record time, which marked a critical milestone for machine learning.

Of course, AI doesn’t arrive on our doorstep without some resistance. For half of the respondents, privacy and security issues are their biggest concern overall, as AI and machine learning require huge amounts of data to learn and improve. 
Additionally, close to half of those polled worry that doctors might become too dependent on AI and have concerns with its accuracy. Consumer confidence in healthcare robotics is still low, with 45% stating that they would still choose a human to perform surgery over an AI-driven robot, while 28% remained unsure.

Suddenly, the future of healthcare doesn’t seem like a far-off destination; rather, it’s already here. As COVID-19 continues to usher in new technology aimed at providing critical innovations to global populations, the healthcare industry faces an exciting, digital makeover.