The disparity in access to healthcare is a primary concern for global leaders. The goal for organizations like World Health Organization, World Economic Forum, and several economic think-tanks is to reduce this disparity by providing healthcare facilities to people worldwide. One interesting statistic to bring perspective to this disparity is 7.5% of Africa’s population being vaccinated versus 65% of the UK’s.
Several public and private entities came together to eradicate Poliovirus from the world. They have nearly succeeded in this endeavor through careful planning and strict enforcement. The eradication of Poliovirus is an excellent example of reducing health disparity. However, other essential health services are shockingly low, even access to a hospital or clinic.
Digitization seems to be a promising solution for people. The world has experienced how distances have been reduced by giving internet access and educating people to use various tools to fulfill their survival needs. The future will see an improvement in quality of life through the same digitization trend.
How will people be provided with critical healthcare services to improve their lives through the internet and digital portals?
This blog will share the latest trends in digital healthcare solutions and their progress in recent times.
Increase in uptake of Telehealth services:
The most prominent trend in the digitization of health is telehealth services. Telehealth means giving people the ability to contact doctors and healthcare providers through internet portals like online clinics. While these internet portals have been developing since the early 2000s, a large chunk of the worldwide population was unaware or hesitant to use them.
The reason was a disruption in the way people accessed healthcare. Most people did not believe they could be treated through online interactions and were unsure how to communicate their ailments.
As with most other services, the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine restrictions brought on a drastic change. Patients needed immediate care, and the less severe cases were advised to stay home. A survey from the US Department of Health and Human Services showed 38 times more usage of telehealth services in Feb 2021.
The overall visits to Medicare’s telehealth increased from roughly eighty thousand to fifty-two million in just one year.
Now, consumers have expressed greater confidence in telehealth services. Around thirty-four percent of respondents in a survey by Human and Health services admitted they would use telehealth services in the future.
Adapting digital twin services will have a massive impact in lesser developed regions. Scheduled online clinics could treat thousands of patients who have no access to a healthcare provider. With 5G technology and more affordable equipment, online clinics are now more advanced than ever.
The disparity in healthcare can only be covered if the countries with the lowest access are provided mass solutions. That is where telehealth services are expected to play a huge role.
Integration with existing MedTech products:
Electronic health records, digital monitoring devices, and digitized health insurance have grown in demand over the past decade. All previous advancements and MedTech tools need to be integrated to make digitization an effective strategy in healthcare.
The foremost step should be consolidating existing electronic health records and creating electronic records for patients in underdeveloped countries. This will immediately allow doctors to adhere to the needs of patients and consumers in far-flung areas. Mass-treatment campaigns, such as the ones for Tuberculosis, can only be done if symptoms are communicated.
Standard fitness bands and phones are now equipped with heart rate monitors and Blood SpO2 monitors. These and other health devices need to be integrated into digital healthcare services. Healthcare providers would be able to accurately measure patients’ vitals from miles away and be able to diagnose them better. To aid this, authorities around the world have lowered compliance strictness momentarily.
This step allows healthcare providers to quickly digitize and centralize patient data without passing multiple encryption and client data protection stages. Eventually, compliance standards will be heightened once again, but the aim is to enable faster communication for now. As soon as healthcare providers establish proper communication channels, they could turn telehealth services into potentially life-saving treatment for the most affected regions.
Another part of integrating modern tools like healthcare robotics and advancements is practical education of the people. Consumers need to be rapidly educated so that they are keener to access digital healthcare portals. There are other disparities at play in this regard.
In India, for example, thirty-seven percent of the people are still offline. The digitization wave must be spread to such areas as the most disparaged. Incorporating the most disconnected regions first will bring a significant improvement in global health parity.
Understanding disparities and practicing inclusiveness:
Google’s Chief Health officer has an insightful recommendation to achieve health parity. She proposes that all digital health products need to be designed with an equity lens. That means healthcare providers need to be aware of these groups’ disparities. While this is significantly more challenging, it might also be the more successful path to take.
Health tech companies have the resources to research how to create more affordable and accessible products. Healthcare needs to be treated as a necessity rather than a privilege.
Lack of infrastructure is a disadvantage mentioned above in the developing economies that health tech companies must workaround. The underserved communities can be brought under the umbrella of digital health services through technological advancements. Faster internet and wireless networks have made it much easier to share data.
Logistics have been redeveloped under modern tech giants such as Amazon, whose drone delivery system could be adopted to deliver medicines.
One point of contention still remains that disparaged communities also do not have the resources to afford extensive healthcare plans. Here is where digital healthcare solutions providers can broaden their horizons and create treatment plans and insurance models that the lowest-earning families can afford.
The economic disparity has been a massive barrier to health parity. Without addressing it, digitization might only commercialize healthcare further and drive away from the goal of humanity’s greater good.
Another way medical professionals can practice inclusiveness is by recognizing the at-risk patients and reaching out to them. Prevention of disease also plays a vital role in achieving health parity. In the medical world, professionals have identified many factors through research that can prevent infections.
Adopting a proactive approach towards at-risk communities will help give the global population improved health.
Public-Private partnerships for broader impact:
Governments have national and state-wise health policies devised, which they are determined to implement within their democratic term. Often, these policies are myopic due to the lack of resources, especially in underdeveloped countries. Healthcare provision could improve drastically by adopting a holistic approach and inviting private healthcare providers and health tech manufacturers to the planning bodies.
The benefit goes both ways. Private health tech companies do not have the relevant data to plan their services. The governments can share this data with private entities to prepare a more fitting response to the people’s healthcare needs. It is also a wise step to incorporate private health funds to spur the impact of government initiatives. The synergy resulting from cross-platform partnerships will allow the country to benefit socially and economically.
Public authorities also have the option to enforce specific equitable healthcare policies. Ernst & Young US reports that large health care organizations have employees who suffer the same health inequities as the general patient population. These organizations will have a good test case to develop equitable policies by first catering to their own employees. Private employees who make up for a significant portion of any country’s population will also be included in the drive to provide equitable digital healthcare solutions.
Governments need to devise policies that identify and attempt to correct the health inequities in different sectors of communities. The impact will be seen more clearly when these policies are implemented to deliver healthcare of the future generation to the majority rather than the majority seeking it out.
Following through on long-term healthcare improvement plans:
Medical provision strategy is often rushed, like the response to COVID-19. Public offices are creating infrastructures on the go as they try to vaccinate as many people as possible. These infrastructures are temporary measures, and strategies will fail to survive the pandemic. Due to this, experts have concluded that reactive and hasty healthcare strategies are widening the health disparity.
Some private entities might try the same approach with digital healthcare solutions, as there is always a demand for healthcare products. One McKinsey survey finds that thirty percent of respondents expected digital healthcare to be fully deployed within three years. This survey has revealed that private health tech companies understand that their product is time-critical, but they need to plan for the long run to make it sustainable and equitable. Careful planning and deployment of digital products is a promising trend over the next three years. This will give healthcare product manufacturers time to research their target markets, scale their production and make the product affordable and accessible.
Close to one hundred percent of the respondents in McKinsey’s survey agreed that convenience should be the top priority in digital healthcare products. In terms of health parity, convenience is crucial, as it will allow less educated communities to use these modern digital healthcare solutions with ease.
Digitization has brought the world closer and allowed us to become more empathetic. The digital revolution can also have the same impact on healthcare industry, where many global organizations are trying to reduce health disparity.
The trends mentioned above show that governments and health tech companies are implementing some trends to great effect. In contrast, other strategies still need their attention in order to have a substantial impact on the global and local disparity in healthcare provision.