February 4, 2021

COVID Crisis is Transforming Health Care Globally

Jim Harris
Magazine Article

Medicalization of the Smartphone Driving Adoption

The COVID crisis is turbo charging the adoption of telemedicine and transforming health care. During the COVID-19 outbreak in China a staggering 50% of all medical visits were remote. Who really wants to go sit in a hospital or doctor’s office with people who are sick? When was this ever a good idea?

With more than 300 million registered users in China, Ping An Good Doctor, is the world’s largest health care platform offering online consultations, hospital referrals and appointments, health management, and wellness interaction services. It connects individual consumers with health care resources.

US Telehealth
At the end of 2018, digital health was a $3 billion industry in the US. By the end of 2020 it will be a $250 billion a year industry in the US, according to McKinsey & Company. The COVID pandemic is driving almost 100X growth!

Digital health was used by 11% of US patients in 2019 and during the pandemic that surged to 46% in 2020. The adoption of telemedicine shifted into hyper-drive, with US virtual health-care interactions on pace to top a billion in 2020, according to analysts at Forrester Research.

UK’s Babylon Health
Babylon Health allows someone to access a doctor online by video conferencing and extensively uses artificial intelligence (AI) to prompt the doctor on what question to ask the patient and, with each answer, the system re-calculates the probability of what the patient’s medical problem is.

The AI also monitors the facial reaction of the patient – alerting the doctor to changes. The system, for example might warn, “The patient looks concerned,” to which the doctor might say “You look worried” and the patient might reply, “Well it sounds pretty serious.” The doctor might then say, “Well if it’s condition X, then it can be easily treated with antibiotics.”

AI is in its infancy and, as it continues to exponentially improve because of computing power and improving algorithms, this will further drive the adoption of telehealth. Babylon is valued at $2 billion – not bad for a start up founded in 2013.

Not Just the Way We Access, It’s What We Access
Mental health is the most under reported crisis of the pandemic and will be a major driver behind sustained virtual care engagement.

Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, revealed that a staggering 36% of the company’s 50,000 employees are experiencing mental health challenges during the pandemic – and that’s in a company that’s been growing during this crisis. What then are the rates of mental health issues for those in the general public who face job loss, financial difficulties and health and health care worries?

A staggering 31% of all virtual health care visits are for mental health. The pandemic is isolating. Many people with non-COVID medical problems are not seeking health care because they fear going to health care facilities. Many are suffering in silence. People need remote assistance.

Technology Enabling Transformation
Some smartphones now have 108 megapixels (MP) cameras and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor supports up to 200MP image sensors. With such high resolution photography, a picture of an eye can be analyzed using AI to determine the gender of the individual, whether they are a smoker and what their risk of heart disease is. Smartphones are enabling remote diagnosis.

We’re seeing the medicalization of the smartphone. A University of Cambridge app listens to a user’s breathing and coughing and predicts whether they have COVID or not. Wearables too are changing health care. Apple’s Series 4 watch incorporates an ECG function so that a patient’s heart rate and rhythm can be monitored and setting off an alarm when abnormalities that would lead to a heart attack are detected.

Not A Technology Issue
In a rare partnership Apple and Google enabled instant, real-time COVID contact tracing for three billion people that have an iOS or Android smartphone. So it’s not the technology that’s holding digital transformation back, it’s regulatory barriers, legal issues, privacy and political concerns.

Benefitting By Breaking Barriers
The COVID crisis is breaking these barriers that have historically retarded telehealth adoption. US health care spending is more than $3.6 trillion representing 18% of US GDP. The COVID crisis is forcing innovation such that we can get better health care outcomes at lower cost by eliminating waste and inefficiency. The most authoritative studies peg health care system waste and inefficiency at $760 billion to $935 billion a year. So out of this terrible COVID crisis is coming great benefit. As the saying goes, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Jim Harris is the author of the Blindsided which focuses on disruptive innovation. It is published in 80 countries worldwide and is a #1 international bestseller. You can follow him on Twitter
@JimHarris or email him at jim@jimharris.com

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