6 Ways COVID-19 Permanently Changed Health Care
How we dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world irrevocably. The rapid acceleration to remote operations, and all the changes that came with it, uprooted many industries, including health care.
Telemedicine, for example, has seen a renaissance, with more and more people using online and mobile app services to get health assistance from the comfort of their homes. But it’s not the only change that has taken hold, and it’s not the only one that will remain permanent.
Here are several ways that COVID-19 has permanently changed health care.
1. The Rise of Telemedicine
For years, telemedicine has been on the table, but it was never a priority. Many health care providers have been working to introduce remote, easily accessible services for a long time. However, no one could have predicted the way COVID-19 would accelerate things.
“In terms of regulatory changes, the COVID-19 outbreak accomplished in 10 days what we’ve been working on for 10 years,” said Michael Okun, the professor and chair of neurology at the University of Florida.
Health care providers are now allowed to use services and apps for telemedicine that were not previously seen as compliant, like Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. Other apps and services bubbled to the surface during this time as well, including MDLive, Lemonaid, LiveHealth Online Mobile, PlushCare, Amwell, and Doctor on Demand.
These services allow maneuverability and convenience in times of crisis, but they’ve also highlighted how slow the legislative process can be. Telemedicine helps reduce wait times, keeps people safe, and it’s cheaper. One survey found that 93% of telemedicine users reported lower health care costs.
Telemedicine is here to stay. The question is what that will look like post-COVID-19.
2. New Care Opportunities
To increase survivability, the earlier the diagnosis the better, especially when it comes to COVID-19. The problem is that many care centers were not prepared to deal with such a massive influx of testing and contact-tracing efforts.
As an answer for this, testing stations cropped up all over the country, often in public places far removed from traditional health care locations. The same thing is happening with vaccine deployment.
The pandemic has changed the game by introducing new care and service opportunities. It’s not just because of the low-contact requirements of the pandemic, either. There are many other things at play, including operational costs, staff availability, and resource levels.
Most importantly, these new care options work. They’ll likely continue after the pandemic has slowed or gone away.
3. Strengthened Infrastructure
The American health care system was not ready for the pandemic, despite years of similar events that should have sparked change.
This event has put tremendous pressure on emergency rooms, intensive care units, and hospitals. Moving forward, the industry will be looking for ways to reduce some of that pressure, including by allowing non-physicians to play a bigger role.
A recently proposed bill would allow eligible entities to “conduct diagnostic testing for COVID-19, and other related activities such as contact tracing, through mobile health units.” It would even allow those entities to visit and carry out duties in patient homes.
Whether it passes or not, the proposal shows we’re moving away from more traditional health care scenarios, if only to find a safer and more efficient alternative. We’ll likely see similar developments to alleviate pressure on current health infrastructure.
4. Smarter Communication
Before COVID-19, doctors and health care professionals could not call or text their patients to talk about health details. This is due to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), passed in 1991. But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order to change this during COVID-19.
The move allows health care professionals to effectively communicate with consumers and patients. It speeds up engagement by cutting through bureaucracy.
If this change remains, it could significantly improve health care by allowing faster response times to tests and health changes.
5. Better Interoperability
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) ensures sensitive patient records and information remain secure and heavily regulated. Health care professionals are not permitted to share this information and must protect it appropriately.
The regulation also restricted sharing in many instances when it would be beneficial, like between health care providers and telehealth services.
Because pandemics are not normal circumstances, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) made it possible for business associates and care professionals to share personal health records, within limits. It allows many entities in the space to work more collaboratively to provide better and more informed care to patients and facilitate smarter billing.
Telemedicine professionals, for example, can see important data like immunization records and other health problems, which might affect care.
6. Innovative Clinical Development
For pharmaceutical companies, COVID-19 meant businesses had to increase the speed at which they work and do it under the threat of a dangerous pandemic with major supply chain disruptions.
Accelerating time-to-market was crucial for maintaining the health and safety of all. The urgent need helped spur innovation and forced biopharma as a whole to discover new workflows.
Digital transformation is at the heart of it, and many manufacturers agree it’s now a necessity to thrive in the industry. One interviewee estimated that, before COVID-19, hybrid models made up 10% to 15% of all large biopharma trials. Since then, the number has increased to up to 50% and will likely stay that high after the pandemic.
The Changes Are Here to Stay
Many of these changes will remain after the crisis is over. Greater telemedicine support, stronger infrastructure, and more innovative clinical development in pharmaceuticals are all incredibly beneficial.
A few good things are resulting from the pandemic, including the long-term resilience of the health care industry.