Updated: Jun 16, 2020
We've all seen endless start-ups explaining how their solution contributes to the battle against COVID-19. Without a doubt, many of these technologies and solutions are already profoundly impacting the way the pandemic is handled or have the potential to do so, yet the multitude of claims is leaving us skeptical at the best of times.
To be clear, let’s differentiate between solutions for directly battling the COVID-19 problem – vaccine development, COVID-19 drugs (such as Remdesivir) and new coronavirus tests; versus solutions that aim to manage healthcare in the COVID-19 era. For the first category, I believe few of us question the relevance of investment in rapid advancement and covering all bases to fast-track elimination of the virus. But start-ups offering new or modified healthcare management solutions for the COVID-19 crisis seem to undermine our confidence, mostly due to some lack of credibility (a bit like every other solution was being labeled “AI” and “big data” a few years ago, regardless of their value proposition for the customer).
Don’t get me wrong. Organizations need healthcare solutions that help them cope with managing the COVID-19 crisis under full or partial lockdown and with other restrictions in place. But they also need to talk about the day after and be ready for the new world that is already in the making. So offerings for healthcare management that are being labeled as “COVID-19 solutions” have healthcare organizations wondering what value these solutions provide, and mostly threaten to detract from the challenge to meet the demands of both current and future strategy – for the COVID-19 era rather than the COVID-19 crisis.
So what are the key challenges the medical world will have to face in this new COVID-19 era?
Avoidance. People think ten times before going to a doctor’s office or hospital. This issue becomes especially problematic for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, who may skip a follow-up appointment or important lab tests. When such patients are feeling relatively well, going for a routine checkup may now be perceived as more dangerous to their health than canceling the appointment. The same problem can arise for at-risk patients who should be scheduled for a colonoscopy, influenza vaccine or other interventions.
Procrastination. "I’ve never wanted to think about my health problems, and now it’s even more daunting." It may seem somewhat counter intuitive, but studies have shown that people who are more anxious about their future due to illnesses or vulnerability, often tend to stop managing themselves well, despite the potential damage that can be done to their health. [1,2,3]
Triage: Transition from Synchronous Medicine to Asynchronous Medicine. Primary care physicians were very busy even before the COVID-19 era. The problem is, although the sharp transition to telehealth reduces the need for face-to-face appointments, it does not necessarily reduce the physician's treatment time for each patient, as the time of the appointment is still synchronous.
In order to reduce the burden on primary care physicians, utilizing remote medicine alone will not suffice, and a paradigm shift is needed in the way primary healthcare services are provided. At the core of this shift is the need to understand for each and every patient and each and every case whether a clinic appointment is mandatory, or whether a synchronous telehealth appointment is required. If neither is necessary, can all the required information for a diagnosis be accessed, so that the physician, asynchronously, can analyze the information and provide an answer for the patient?
Transitioning to such a new type of triage tool for healthcare organizations would dramatically reduce the workload of primary care physicians.
Moving to the patient's home. In a world where pizza delivery seems like a basic service and Amazon is one of the world's leading companies, moving some medical services to the patient's home must also be taken more seriously. Medication delivery services are becoming quite common in many countries, but it’s time to move to standardizing home-based testing services and using advanced IoT tools to collect additional objective patient parameters, reducing the need for clinic visits for blood pressure tests, or for tests that require simple devices like a stethoscope or otoscope. Doing so will lower the risk of infection for chronic patients and will significantly improve service quality for many.
These are just some examples of the direction primary healthcare must take going forward. Now, more than ever, it’s essential to provide solutions that can support a successful transition into the COVID-19 era and beyond.
Written by Yoav Ariav, CEO and Co-founder at Octopus.Health
1. Ziegelstein RC, Fauerbach JA, Stevens SS, Romanelli J, Richter DP, Bush DE. Patients With Depression Are Less Likely to Follow Recommendations to Reduce Cardiac Risk During Recovery From a Myocardial Infarction. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160(12):1818–1823. doi:10.1001/archinte.160.12.1818
2. McAllister J, Beardsworth G, Lavie E, MacRae K, Carr A. Financial stress is associated with reduced treatment adherence in HIV-infected adults in a resource-rich setting. HIV Med. 2013;14(2):120‐124. doi:10.1111/j.1468-1293.2012.01034.x
3. Kuhl EA, Fauerbach JA, Bush DE, Ziegelstein RC. Relation of anxiety and adherence to risk-reducing recommendations following myocardial infarction. Am J Cardiol. 2009;103(12):1629‐1634. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2009.02.014