It might sound cliché, but the world, indeed, will never be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless nations fail to learn their lessons—and that can be a significant misfortune—this health crisis will modify how everyone interacts and conducts business.
That includes how countries like the United States will deal with healthcare.
The Continuous Rise of Telemedicine
The concept of telemedicine isn’t new, but its adoption had been slow through the years. Many patients, and even healthcare professionals, prefer to see each other face-to-face. Doctors, for example, can observe and check their patients properly and recommend the correct tests.
Moreover, not many platforms back then can support telemedicine. In 2016, only 88 percent of Americans used the Internet, according to Pew Research. Apps like Zoom and Skype were mostly for business.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for telemedicine. The CDC data showed that in March 2020, telehealth visits grew by a whopping 154 percent compared to the same time in 2019.
Meanwhile, a report in JAMA Network Open revealed that telemedicine services increased by 1,000 percent in March and then 4,000 percent the following month. On the other hand, in-person services decreased by 52 percent in April and 23 percent the month prior.
For this reason, Brand Essence Research forecasts that the global demand for this market will achieve a compound annual growth rate of nearly 40 percent until 2026. By then, its value would have reached over $170 billion from only $27 billion in 2019.
This doesn’t mean that telemedicine isn’t without challenges. As the demand increases, so should the quality of tech. Both its adoption and transition may also cost healthcare facilities more money. Moreover, the industry still needs to iron out concerns on patient confidentiality and health insurance claims.
Nevertheless, the pandemic showed that telemedicine could work. It is an effective tool in delivering good health services in non-emergency cases. It may even increase compliance on medications and doctors’ visits through easy monitoring.
Pivoting Is the Name of the Game
According to the American Hospital Association, the United States has over 6,000 hospitals with nearly a million staffed beds. About 55,000 of these beds are for general intensive medical care.
But the pandemic also caused the collapse of the country’s healthcare system. At certain periods, the need exceeded the supply.
The reasons are many. Before COVID-19, most of the medical supplies came from other countries, particularly China, where manufacturing plants could produce volumes at a lower price. When the pandemic hit, logistics became a challenge, partly leading to a critical shortage of personal protective equipment and masks.
Second, because of the lack of information about the pandemic, many healthcare facilities couldn’t anticipate the disease’s virulence and severity. Even with so many beds, not all rooms were suitable for patients with the condition.
One of the biggest lessons of the pandemic, therefore, is pivoting. This characteristic brings about both resilience and flexibility in times of crisis.
Today, some hospitals in New York can already convert regular rooms into ICUs quickly through a more effective HVAC design and the use of contactless patient handling. In California, the state opened field hospitals in December 2020 to cater to non-ICU patients.
Companies like Lakeside Manufacturing can produce and customize portable items like PPE hamper stands and medical-grade utility stands. Because they are based in the country, logistics challenges are greatly minimized.
In September 2020, General Motors announced that, through its partnership with Ventec Life Systems, the company designed and delivered over 3,000 V+Pro ventilators in less than six months. The creation process involved using GM technology and engineering and converting one of its plants for manufacturing.
A New Set of Patients
Lastly, experts believe that the pandemic will change the health insurance system in many ways. It may create a new set of patients: COVID survivors who may end up dealing with long-lasting effects of the disease.
Until now, not much is known about the impact of getting the infection, but newer studies reveal vital information. A recent study by Oxford University in London revealed that about 33% of over 230,000 COVID-19 survivors observed experienced different neurological symptoms.
At least 13 percent developed mood disorders, while nearly 18 percent had anxiety. Others showed symptoms of paralysis, stroke, psychosis, and dementia. A number even dealt with brain inflammation.
A 2021 research in JAMA cited how one in ten people who had COVID continue to experience at least one moderate or severe symptom eight months after their diagnosis. These include fatigue and loss of smell and taste.
Whether the pandemic will become seasonal later on like the flu remains to be seen. It is clear that it continues to bring challenges—and lessons—to the industry it’s hitting the most: healthcare.