Many experts have already started contemplating that the damage due to COVID19 that is apparently visible today in the economic, social, political or other aspects of our lives, is just the tip of the iceberg. The gigantic submerged part is yet to be realized by the world and will be visible gradually post-COVID. I am praying that this prediction comes out wrong, otherwise it’s not going to be any less than a horrible nightmare for all of us. On the contrary, probably the biggest positive aspect that COVID has attributed and initiated so far is that, it acted as a wakeup call for the entire world to focus on the healthcare systems. It brutally proved that healthcare and medicine today is far behind to fight against a pandemic or any biological warfare, the possibility of which cannot be ignored in the future.
COVID has proven that in this highly connected world we should be concerned about everything that is happening even in the remotest corner of the world, because the same can come and knock at your door the very next day. So, although globalization has numerous benefits but at the same time, we should be cognizant about the challenges and threats that it can pose at anytime in various forms. And no country should be allowed to enjoy the benefits of globalization without being transparent to the rest of the world, at least when it comes to a global threat.
So, undoubtedly healthcare and medicine industry worldwide need a huge transformation because probably the amount of innovation and agility this field is demanding today is somehow missing. Something that has apparently been evident in this COVID time in many parts of the world. And let’s accept it gracefully and work towards betterment. The only viable solution to this and many other issues is the “Digital Health Ecosystem”. There are various other reasons as well why digital health is a booming field and why it’s going to be a “Golden Era of Digital Health” post COVID.
First, if we consider the cost of healthcare for both critical and non-critical illnesses in a developing country and compare it with average income of citizens, there is a huge disparity and to bridge this gap the only viable and cost effective solution is bringing digital health ecosystem which is going to make healthcare affordable even to the lowermost income groups of citizens. Similarly, even in the developed countries the spend on healthcare is enormous and a big burden even for the flourishing economies. Digital health is a sustainable solution for this. It can reduce the cost to almost one third in long run as per many experts.
Second, there is a huge shortage of doctors and healthcare professionals all over the world. The shortage is so enormous that the world will never be able to cater to this need even by producing more and more doctors and healthcare professionals at a faster speed. But the alternative is to create a digital health ecosystem with smarter solutions empowering doctors and healthcare professionals with tools and technologies to serve and cater to the larger mass of the population.
Third, on one hand, there are many areas of healthcare and medicine that have already undergone some level of digital transformation including maintaining and utilizing digital health records at individual and public levels in different countries. But on the other hand, it has been observed that there are still huge gaps that need to be interlinked to enjoy the benefits from the true Digital Health Ecosystem.
Digital Health Ecosystem needs a federated holistic approach and cannot be just a few solutions here and there in silos. The challenges exist even replicating such digital health models in developing and under developed countries because the overall digital infrastructure of such countries is still very poor.
In digital health, there are many areas like m-Health for delivering healthcare services and information through mobile devices. Digital and Precision Medicine which is essentially tailoring the medical practices according to the needs of individual patients. Quantified Self is a term used for monitoring and prediction of an individual’s health on the basis of health parameter data gathered from wearable and other devices and recommend life style and dietary changes, create systemic plans, bring in work out regime to achieve health-related milestones and targets like weight loss, control hypertension or diabetes etc.
Telemedicine for delivering healthcare remotely using digital technologies. Modern digital health services cover a wide spectrum and range of things including gamification, mobile technologies, IoT, sensors, different electronic devices, robotics, social media, analytics, data visualization and predictions, 3D printing or bio-printing, blockchain, AR/VR, big data and of course AI and machine learning. The list is very long and newer cutting-edge innovations like quantum computing is also now getting appended in the same list.
The core focus of digital healthcare is proactive and predictive rather than reactive with aggressive treatment plan for ailments and that’s a huge paradigm shift from the traditional sick care. Personal technologies are coming in full force in the golden era of digital healthcare. Now, wearable health monitoring systems will flourish in a big way and almost all vital body parameters will be available in our mobile devices. With the advent of NewGen sensors powered with AI, the field of wearables and personal technologies will get a great boost.
Telemedicine, Home Diagnosis, Remote Care, Retail and Insurance are already getting integrated with the digital health ecosystem. Keeping connected health infrastructure as the backbone and running many varieties of predictive analytics on health parameters can essentially revolutionize the emerging field of predictive health. Rendering different healthcare services on mobile devices and online consultation can be achieved. Home care including critical care at home and making available medicines including medical equipment and medical kits for home has already started in India and many parts of the world during this COVID lockdown. In fact, we need such a remote home care ecosystem in parallel with traditional hospital care. This becomes very essential during crisis situations like pandemic, natural calamity or war.
This can result in drastic reduction in hospital admission rates and thus prevent hospital systems from being overwhelmed during such crisis. Health social networks are also growing in popularity, such networks provide opportunity to patients to seek advice, suggestions from other similar patients and compare medications, diet and lifestyle changes, etc. It can also sometimes help getting emotional support from such health social network groups.
Again, technology invasion in healthcare is going to be tremendous in the post COVID era because many people have started contemplating that healthcare in its core has somehow been disregarded when we were busy with other technological revolutions. Cutting-edge technologies such as genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and even quantum computing have started invading many areas in a big way. Also, healthcare e-commerce has already started booming and has the potential to leapfrog other forms of traditional commerce. Similarly, Bio-Printing of human organs is going to revolutionize the organ transplantation space in the near future.
Even cars today are becoming point-of-care. Many high-end cars are already equipped with sensory systems in seat belt, steering wheel and other parts of the car that can sense whether you are tired during driving or if your heart beat is abnormal. An abnormality in any other vital body parameter can be detected and the system can immediately alert you and your healthcare provider. It can also guide you through steps and remedial actions which can essentially save your life.
Many experts also realize today that healthcare and medicine industry need light in terms of bringing transparency and openness specially in the developing countries and technology intervention at a large scale. In that way, digital healthcare is going to radically change the market dynamics. Drug manufacturing companies, healthcare providers and hospitals will no longer be able to ignore ethics and the human life element involved in this field. Digital healthcare is going to bring enormous transparency for the patients where there is a huge gap today.
Also, cross-border healthcare or borderless healthcare a long pending dream and digital healthcare revolution is going to transcend the geographical boundaries of different countries and bring healthcare anywhere anytime in the true sense. Collaboration among different countries in the field of research in the different verticals of medical science keeping aside geographical and political disparities can bring an immense momentum in this revolution. The regulatory bodies of different countries will play a major role in this digital healthcare revolution because only if they bring in a forward-thinking conductive environment for the innovators, then only things will move fast. Traditional bureaucratic mentality of the regulators and the governments can slowdown the entire process and create frustration among the startups and innovators.
Moreover, data privacy is a major challenge and there is a need for a robust framework to deal with security, privacy and sharing of health data related to various health parameters, diagnostic reports, medical history, hospitalization details, treatments, prescriptions, bills, insurance records, etc. to leverage those to build a better digital health ecosystem.
Surprisingly, most of the innovations that are happening today in the field of healthcare and medicine are being done not by pure healthcare professionals, researchers or doctors, rather by professionals and innovators from other fields like IT, robotics, AI and people from the fields of applied physics, chemical science, genetics, etc. That clearly indicates that in this century you need not be a quailed healthcare professional or a doctor to participate in this revolution, Rather you can be from any field if you are passionate and with a mentality and willingness to innovate.