The spread of COVID-19 across the world had a huge impact on virtually every sector of the global economy. Healthcare, naturally, was at the very forefront of this impact, and the acceleration of innovation and investment in transformative healthcare technologies over the past 18 months has been staggering. However, the rapid acceptance of new medical innovations represents a break from the past as the practice of medicine has historically been conservative in embracing new technologies.
Well-established institutions are often slow to adopt change, and healthcare is no exception. Within healthcare, new products, services and systems take a long time to be approved as potential risks on patients need to be carefully assessed: Throughout the years, this has supported and motivated some resistance to change. Beyond that, there are the innate complexities of modern healthcare systems, including multiple IT systems, policies and reimbursement rules. Privacy concerns are also pervasive, with competing hospitals often unwilling to share information, while there is a cultural resistance, both on the part of physicians and their patients, to using new tools. Staff members are rarely trained in their use, either.
But the crisis of COVID-19 overrode much of the industry’s traditional caution and created new urgencies, opening the doors to technologies previously regarded as disruptive—and the wrong kind of disruptive. The pandemic has pushed healthcare providers to reconsider their business models, it has advanced the shift to telemedicine, and it has compressed product development which formerly required years into just a matter of months.
These latest global events are driving a fundamental digital reconstruction of healthcare. The industry is shifting from reactive care to a true focus on health maintenance—keeping people in the pre-clinical stages of their lives for as long as possible.
Achieving that involves treating lifestyle-originated diseases including obesity, diabetes and smoking-related illnesses, among others, away from acute care settings like hospitals. Instead, it involves providing care by coordinating data from disparate sources into the homes and monitoring devices of patients, supported as needed by telemedicine services. This sort of data orchestration can make use of artificial intelligence (AI) to provide more precise intelligence and treatment programs for each individual patient.
But the digital transformation of healthcare goes beyond individual patients and even entire patient populations. Every corner of the sector is being impacted. In pharmaceuticals, for example, healthcare technology is supporting the full lifecycle from preliminary research to full commercialization. AI, too, is being used to support drug discovery and the identification of patients for clinical trials. It can also accelerate those trials, reducing the need for placebo groups by using synthetic controls.
Robotics, imaging and navigation technologies are improving the effectiveness of surgeries within medtech. Corin, for example, has invested in a robotic platform to support orthopedic surgeons performing knee replacements in hospitals as well as in a digital one supporting hip replacement surgeries.
Outside the clinic, as hardware converges with software, wearable devices are becoming widely available to monitor patients’ symptoms, collect data and, in some cases, provide targeted treatment. When it comes to the healthcare providers themselves, technology can help speed patient triage and provide clinical decision support for physicians. And on the back end, it can assist healthcare institutions in practice management, data analytics and workflow automation.
Beside Corin, I-Med (the largest network of diagnostic imaging clinics in Australia) partnered with Harrison.ai to build Annalise.ai, the most advanced DI AI tool to support radiologists in their diagnoses. Althea, the largest independent provider of technology management to hospitals and clinics, has seen a big uptick in usage of its telemedicine platform.
This is an exciting time for the healthcare industry as businesses and healthcare leaders push the limits of innovation to elevate standards of care to new heights. But we also don’t underestimate the difficulty of restructuring a trillion-dollar system during a time of stress, and recognize that it will take both financial and human capital to support this transition.
The prevailing healthcare market models, reimbursement patterns, patient safety laws and clinical policies will need to adapt to the onrush of changes which are now converging. We are confident that innovative new models will be developed, tested, refined and implemented. And above all, we are excited about this epochal change in the administration of healthcare and comforted by the prospect of technology enabling better care, for more people, at lower cost.