August 4, 2020
The healthcare industry was going through a digital transformation long before COVID-19. The pandemic may have accelerated the shift to all things digital, but we were already seeing new business models driven by the need to make healthcare more affordable, accessible and adaptable. At the center of it all is technology, changing everything about how healthcare professionals deliver care to patients.
There are a few major trends happening in healthcare technology. The most obvious is probably the shift to telemedicine and other digital health tools and communications. While telehealth was already driving industry trends, it’s gone from nice to have to a necessity in the COVID era.
Digital healthcare tools aren’t just a COVID-induced fad. According to a recent survey, nearly 50% of people said they’ve used digital technology to communicate with their healthcare providers including electronic health management systems, email and text. The rise in digital health technologies is also informing many IT decisions across the industry and leading the way for decentralized healthcare.
In addition to the explosion of digital communication tools, the industry is exploring ways to utilize augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. On the patient side AR can be used for educating patients, to aid in treatment, and to provide a virtual consultation experience. AI is being used for everything from virtual assistants and to robotic-assisted surgery, to patient monitoring and early disease detection. Wearable consumer-tech and internet-enabled devices might be top of mind when it comes to IoT, but IoT adoption is on the rise in healthcare manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, retail, and transportation.
The decentralization of healthcare is essentially a return to the community-based industry roots of, after a period of centralized, facility-based care. This trend is just getting underway and following a similar pattern as that in retail and travel, with tech-enabled disruptors finding new ways to provide greater access to health services, while also reducing the associated costs. Some of the most prominent disruptors include One Medical, Teladoc, and Walmart.
OneMedical uses a subscription, concierge model to power its mission to radically change the patient experience. Not only do OneMedical subscribers get access to primary care physicians in any city where it operates (which is most major US cities), they can make same-day appointments, get access to an entire care team via text, be treated over video, and be treated in well-designed, uncrowded offices. For OneMedical physicians, the benefit is being able to spend more time with patients and less time on paperwork.
Thanks to Covid-19, telemedicine has become ubiquitous, a trend Teledoc has benefitted from greatly. Teledoc already accounted for the vast majority of telemedicine pre-pandemic, a foothold that increased more than 90% in Q1 of 2020. While Zoom was an easy early choice for some healthcare providers, experts don’t expect this trend to continue.
“We do believe that going forward it is going to be most important that care is delivered through a HIPAA-secure platform and our technology was purposefully built to deliver telehealth care," noted Lewis Levy, Teledoc Chief Medical Officer. Good thing for Teledoc, it’s the number-one direct-to-consumer telehealth provider.
You might be surprised Walmart is one of the top disruptors in healthcare, but the retail juggernaut has a long history of disruptive innovation. In the midst of the pandemic crisis, Walmart is taking aim at the bloated, inefficient, and expensive healthcare system with its own network of low-cost clinics, with primary care for as low as $40 and pediatric appointments as low as $20.
Not all of the innovation in healthcare can be driven by industry newcomers. With 18 and 58 years in business respectively for Teledoc and Walmart, both could be considered legacy organizations compared to OneMedical, which IPOed in January 2020. While Teledoc is an early disruptor when it comes to digital health technology, disruption seems to be infused into the Walmart DNA when it comes to cost reduction and access.
Other legacy healthcare businesses are driving change through corporate venture capital funds and partnerships to educate and support entrepreneurship. For instance, Coplex recently partnered with ASU and the Maricopa County Medical Society for a 2-day, virtual workshop to teach aspiring healthcare entrepreneurs turn their ideas into viable business models. We can probably expect to see more partnerships between colleges and startup studios or accelerators as a way to support student entrepreneurship, and drive innovation.
Despite all of the technological advancements happening in healthcare, there are still some persistent gaps and inequalities. Telemedicine and other digital communication tools have created greater, distributed access to medical care; however, it’s not unusual for people in rural areas to lack adequate internet connection. OneMedical may be improving the patient experience; however, the concierge model is only accessible to those who can afford the yearly subscription in addition to the monthly premium.
Some healthcare pros also warn against the pitfalls of relying too heavily on AI and IoT technologies for patient care. For all of the time saving and convenience IoT technologies provide, healthcare pros and consumers alike continue to express concerns about privacy and data security. Skeptics also warn against the over-reliance on AI technologies, noting that without a laser focus on patient outcomes, AI could cause more harm than good.
These are all relevant concerns for an industry currently undergoing a technological renaissance. Regardless of the caveats and concerns the industry will continue to move forward and technology will almost certainly propel the industry forward at a rate most aren’t ready for. Some outcomes are impossible to predict without at least a little experimentation, but the trend of focusing on improving patient outcomes with affordable, accessible, and adaptable care could lead to positive changes in healthcare and adjacent industries.
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