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How Covid-19 is driving regional innovation in digital health

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Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people in every corner of the world have been touched by human tragedy and financial hardship from the global economic downturn. As difficult as these hardships have been, coping with Covid-19 has revealed a silver lining. In finding ways to mitigate and minimize exposure to Covid-19, the collective shift to remote services has forced a digital transformation on a large scale.

Retail, banking and other industries already had many of the systems in place to accommodate the shift to online and mobile access. Healthcare, however, has struggled in the past to develop the same level of integrated data and services commonplace in other industries.

In reality, medical technology is critical in getting us through this crisis. Whether technology is used to diagnose new cases, monitor patients in quarantine or care for those with other health issues, it has a clear role. If anything, the rapid adoption of telehealth shows that remote care is highly scalable and works well in both rural and urban areas.

To quote co-founders Steven Krein and Unity Stoakes from the StartUp Health Insight 2020 Mid-year Report, “It’s been said that there are decades where nothing happens; and then there are weeks when decades happen. It’s crystal clear to us that over the past several weeks, decades have happened.”

According to a July report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), primary care telehealth visits by Medicare beneficiaries increased by nearly 50% at its peak from January through June. Even in Nebraska, which has the lowest rate of telehealth adoption, there was a 22% increase.

The key takeaway is that technology adopted out of necessity to mitigate Covid-19’s spread, and support so many people staying at home, is here to stay. A recent report by IQVIA supports this, noting that the 25% of care expected to remain remote after the pandemic ends will have a significant long-term impact on managing chronic disease. The obvious benefits of remotely monitoring patients’ biological data include being able to help more patients in more places while preventing Covid-19 transmission, not to mention cost and time savings.

Digital health is of course more than just telehealth. It requires a connected network of devices and wearables that provide robust patient data that can be seamlessly integrated into healthcare workflows. As we work towards this remote care future, there must be a physical interface and collaboration around products. Countries that are focused on interoperability and building data sharing capabilities will recover faster and have an added advantage not just in addressing Covid-19, but in more efficiently managing of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

In line with the persistent shift to remote medicine, we are seeing innovation happening in more distributed medical technology regions. The Twin Cities’ Medical Alley, Sydney, Australia’s  ANDHealth, and Pittsburgh’s UPMC Enterprises are thriving innovation hubs with strong collaboration between researchers, diverse medical technology companies, universities, and health systems.

As the pandemic continues, more innovation centers will emerge as new supply chains develop, and tariffs and embargoes impact certain markets. Having more, and more regional, innovation hubs can help address some of the critical weaknesses we saw in global supply chains by creating additional suppliers increasing the volume and availability, thereby making companies less vulnerable to shortages. In the same way companies protect against lost data with redundant back-up systems, we must do the same with our health supply chains.

It is gratifying to see the industry embrace new technologies and come together to support their local communities. As a society, we have a responsibility to be better prepared for “black swans”, whether that is a pandemic or other catastrophic event. Embracing digital transformation is a first step on the road to making care more efficient and to also lay the foundation for a future driven by the connected medical technology needed to improve human health on a global scale.

Photo: ipopba, Getty Images

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