Virtual healthcare trend shows future for all industries
10 Mar 2023
The old adage that “prevention is better than cure” is attributed to Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch philosopher who succumbed to death in 1536 at the impressive age of 69 – roughly double the life expectancy of Europeans until 1800.
Some 487 years later, Erasmus’ wise words live on. But are healthcare organizations and business leaders in other industries optimizing technology and tools to prevent rather than cure problems?
M3 Global Research’s report on the top global healthcare trends in 2023 according to over 2,200 industry experts across 14 countries, published in January, positioned “virtual healthcare” top of the list. Given that the history of videoconferencing can be traced back to the 1870s, shortly after the invention of the telephone, it is perhaps surprising that progress in this area has been so slow.
Nevertheless, the research states: “Virtual healthcare and remote consultations will have the greatest impact on healthcare in 2023, with 20% of respondents choosing this option.”
The report cites Meticulous Research from the end of last year that projected the global telehealth market would grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.6% in 2022 to reach $539.73 billion (£447.91 billion) by 2029. Additionally, the World Health Organization calculates that 10 million healthcare professionals will be required by the end of the decade. However, the deficit could be reduced with increased adoption of “both telehealth and artificial intelligence solutions to deliver care remotely”, as M3’s analysis suggests.
The lockdowns enforced to limit the spread of the coronavirus closed doors but opened minds in terms of the possibilities of technology-enabled communication. And for some healthcare professionals, the uptake of remote consultations was pleasantly surprising.
Education needed to realize potential
For example, Alice Pan, Chief Medical Officer and Global Head of Health Operations at BIMA – a Swedish company that delivers health and insurance services in nine markets in Asia and Africa – offered a telemedicine service during the pandemic. It quickly became customers’ favored method of contact.
“After the first use of telemedicine, the percentage of people selecting it as their preferred channel of communicating with us went from 5.8% to 58%,” Pan said in a 2021 interview with Raconteur. “It shows that trying something for the first time can shatter preconceptions.”
While the massive popularity of remote healthcare was unexpected for Pan and her team, it justified the shift to digital solutions, which is a win-win for healthcare providers and patients. With the customer data gathered from digital interactions, BIMA aims to provide a more preventative, proactive, and personalized service.
“We are getting to know our customers better and collecting data to serve them better,” added Pan. “For the first six months of the pandemic, we learnt a lot, and it was tough; it was all reactive. Now we have a clear plan for growth in the next five years. And it’s exciting, especially for our customers.”
Business leaders operating in other industries can learn from this approach. To realize the potential of digital solutions such as remote consultations, education is required for healthcare professionals and patients. Yes, no one likes change, to use another well-used saying, but the speed of technology adoption is often determined by culture. In a forward-thinking country like Switzerland, virtual doctors have been operating for years before the pandemic.
Long-term strategy required
The rate of progress comes back to people, process, and technology. And often, the blocker is the people element. Indeed, technology is not a barrier in this context. For example, in Germany, I’m unsure whether patients are ready to dial up video consultations – many of us find it more reassuring to speak to a doctor in person. Interestingly, in many cases, clinicians would rather see their patients face-to-face, despite the efficiencies created by virtual consultations.
Clearly, there are times when an in-person visit is preferable. Still, the overarching point is that a long-term strategy that carefully considers how technology could and should be used within healthcare to provide a better service will nudge society closer to a world in which prevention rather than cure is possible.
By sharing patient data, and with improved diagnoses, the potential of “precision health” – an approach to care that is integrated, efficient, highly personalized, and will reduce hospital visits and costs – can be realized.
As thrilling a prospect as precision health is, and without even touching on digital twin technology, it would be advisable for business leaders operating in industries outside healthcare to think about how they could apply this approach and the technology to evolve their businesses. After all, the pandemic catapulted us all into the digital age, and the sooner we accept that, the better.