Post-COVID-19 Trends in Digital Healthcare
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a major uptake for telehealth and many other digital healthcare tools, while the clinical trial space was massively disrupted. StartLightSoft experts share which changes are fleeting and what technologies are here to stay.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus at the beginning of 2020 and its rapid spread across the globe have had a huge impact not only on public health but on every aspect of life. We have had to change the way we interact with each other, the way we travel, do business, and go shopping. Healthcare systems around the world were tremendously affected during the first wave of the pandemic. High contagiousness and rapid spread, high mortality among certain demographic groups, and a shortage of protective equipment and life-saving ventilators left people in shock. Medical professionals worked to exhaustion to care for the seriously ill.
Now, when the spread of the virus seems to be being brought under control, restrictions are being eased and life is slowly starting to resemble more normal patterns, it’s time to see how this unprecedented event has affected healthcare and what developments we’ve witnessed during the pandemic will be here to stay.
We have looked at the most important trends:
Telehealth Solutions May Replace Many Doctor Visits
Telehealth has taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everywhere in the world we see telehealth solutions offered by a large number of providers.
Leveraging telehealth is not just about patients connecting with a doctor through a telehealth platform for a short virtual visit to get a prescription. There are hospitals that are bringing telehealth stations into patient rooms, so that a specialist from another hospital, maybe from another city or state, can examine the patient through the telehealth system. It is not just about connecting patients and doctors, it is also about connecting doctors to doctors and being able to extend the scope of what each individual can provide for patient care.
Some people argue that telehealth is hype-driven at the moment. Telehealth solutions have experienced a boom during the pandemic for obvious reasons. However, as life gets back to normal, a traditional visit might still be preferable as the trust a patient builds with a doctor through personal visits cannot be compared to communication through a virtual meeting.
Additional Applications for Telehealth
Mental Health and Lifestyle Management
The pandemic has affected not only health but lifestyle. The majority of the population were in lockdown for about three months. A lot of bad habits came with sitting at home: eating too much, drinking too much, and not getting enough exercise are just starting to have consequences.
These developments have triggered the spread of many different telehealth solutions not related to primary health care. Mental health applications, rehabilitation, lifestyle and training apps, as well as addiction control and all kinds of patient monitoring, will continue to develop, moving a face-to-face visit onto the Internet to reduce contact and the risk of passing on an infection.
Virtual Clinical Trials
Clinical trials became difficult or impossible to conduct during the pandemic, with the majority focused on creating a vaccine against the coronavirus. Beyond that, many trials were halted because people could not be physically present at the site. Pharma companies and CROs were moved to try new ways to get them running. Though hard to perform, televisits became part of the process. This applies to observational trials where it is possible to monitor a condition, track the system, and collect relevant information. This can be performed remotely. In the future, there will most likely be a hybrid alternative in which a doctor and a patient still meet from time to time, but visits in between are unnecessary if the information is collected properly.
Drug Development and Drug Repurposing
In drug development, there has also been a push towards artificial intelligence for drug discovery. For example, Boehringer Ingelheim has partnered with Berg to work with a precision medicine AI-platform to help push forward drug development. One of the companies trying to create a vaccine for COVID-19, Moderna, is using messenger RNA (mRNA) to do this. And the way they have created this is based on artificial intelligence. The first vaccine for COVID -19 will likely be created with the use of AI. In the future, leveraging artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, and analytic information will lead to a workable vaccine much quicker. And this can be applied to all kinds of future epidemics.
Another area where AI can be used to speed up creation of a new therapy is drug repurposing in which an existing drug is used. AI is applied to analyze everything that we already know about this drug — its effects on the body, receptors that it connects to, and side effects. Through modeling this data, we can identify, for example, whether a drug that is used for malaria can also be used to fight COVID-19. In the future, the ability to look at existing drugs on the market and run them through AI drug repurposing platforms could help us identify new drug candidates to fight COVID-19 and other viral diseases much more quickly. Since these drugs are already on the market and have been approved by regulatory authorities, the process to have them approved for the second indication is much faster.
Google and Apple are contracting to work on contact tracing APIs that can help track the spread of the virus even when there are many asymptomatic carriers. These kinds of applications will develop in the future, but what’s key is that we have one application for each country or state.
Travel-Related Health Screenings
Our experience as travelers will most likely change as health screenings at airports and train stations will become routine. This may appear in the form of contactless temperature measurements and speed blood-testing to make sure a traveler is not a carrier of the virus.
As humanity faced the new threat of COVID-19, it quickly became obvious that we were not all that ready to fight back or at least protect health and lives. Vaccines take a very long time to develop as they run through a complicated process of clinical trials and regulatory approval. More than that, if we develop a vaccine for COVID-19, we are still unable to predict what the next pandemic will be or how the virus will mutate.
Information Collection and Analysis as a Challenge
As we described technologies and advances that will continue to develop in the future after COVID, one global challenge should be addressed here – patient information collection, accumulation and analysis. In the future, we will have to learn to collect patient data in a single patient profile in order to create systems and solutions for decision support. The same applies to telehealth that collects patient data from difference wearables as well as different clinics, hospitals, and emergency rooms. This data should be standardized and stored properly in one location in order to make those systems effective and ensure better care.
What about Regulations?
As the healthcare and life sciences industry is highly regulated, there is a natural concern about how fast the changes that we describe will be adopted. In the current situation, governments around the world are relaxing some regulations around telehealth, allowing doctors to care for individuals outside their city or state. As for drug development and repurposing, governments are now fast-tracking drug research to try to deal with the crisis more quickly. In the future, there will undoubtedly be changes in how the healthcare system is regulated.
The COVID-19 epic will eventually come to its logical conclusion and the lockdown will end. However, life will be different and the hard lessons that we have learned should be addressed soon, so we will not be caught out again, whether in a second wave of COVID-19 or another pandemic. New healthcare and life sciences solutions will be adopted and implemented in order to minimize risks and improve outcomes.