Consumer interest in health and wellbeing has been an important trend over the last decade, and one supported by emerging tech, with 4 in 10 people now willing to engage with technology in their healthcare experience. In this article we look at how Covid-19 has accelerated this digitalisation trend and what the implications will be for the wider health environment.
1. A changed relationship with our health
It can be easy to look back at the early days of the lockdown and think that perhaps the Joe Wicks and the vitamin regimes were a passing phase, but if you look at the increased purchase of wearables, gym equipment, and fitness subscriptions, it indicates that the pandemic has created an increased focus on fitness and health, with more consumers looking for tech-enabled solutions. Peloton’s global membership base, for example, has doubled since this time last year.
From all the evidence, there is good reason for people to be looking after their health, not just to be fighting fit in case they are infected with Covid-19, but also to reduce the risk if infected given warnings around the correlation between morbid obesity and Covid-related deaths. Even the prime minister has encouraged the public to lose weight, saying his own admission to hospital was a wake-up call about his need to commit to a better diet and exercise. This shift is likely to mean more people adopt technologies which enable them to monitor their health data and that enable them to keep to nutritional or fitness programmes.
2. Technology unlocking new access channels
Unsurprisingly in a pandemic people are reluctant or unable to go to the doctor. Many initially feared getting a Covid-19 test, as they didn’t want to be exposed to the virus at a testing site. 28% of people said they had cancelled their primary care visits themselves while – with a healthcare system under pressure – 20% of those surveyed had also had their appointments cancelled by providers.
This has resulted in a shift away from traditional doctor appointments and a move towards remote consultations. In the three months from July to September, doctors in England delivered 38.6 million routine appointments, with 68% – some 26.3 million – carried out remotely.
Patients therefore will be more accustomed to new ways of seeking care, which will be necessary as the NHS tries to move through a backlog of appointments and operations that will take months if not years to address. Ensuring a good uptake of these alternatives will be fundamental if the government is to avoid waiting lists growing beyond 10m patients by the end of 2020 and prevent a rapid increase in missed diagnoses and long-term health problems that has already started to sadly play out.
3. A healthcare system changing at pace
Healthcare systems have been forced to change at pace in a number of different ways in response to the pandemic:
– Relaxation of regulation: due to the rapid nature of the response to Covid-19, some long-held beliefs have been challenged, in particular the BMJ notes that “there has been a relaxation of the rules on sharing patients’ confidential data and the Department of Health and Social Care is requiring healthcare bodies to provide patient information to each other to help fight Covid-19.” Depending on the long-term success of some of these initiatives, there is likely to be a more open-minded approach to tech adoption and data sharing in the sector going forwards.
– Accelerated adoption of tech: As health communication technologies – such as being able to call or video conference medical experts – is adopted, more use cases for tech helping generate better patient outcomes are likely to emerge. For example in some countries such as Germany, this has driven increased use of wearables to monitor biomarkers such as pulse and temperature. Researchers at Stanford have been working closely with Fitbit and other wearable device manufacturers to look at whether data from their wearable technologies can help predict early signs of Covid-19 infection. It is easy to see the benefit that wearables could have in the UK care home sector, which has been impacted so severely by Covid-19. Increased digital monitoring of more vulnerable people and older demographics could help improve the pace of response to infections and improve survival rates.
The long term implications of this are that as there is an increased focus on healthy living, there will be more opportunities for tech to help monitor and facilitate this, especially as consumers and institutions become more relaxed around sharing personal health data and using newer and more innovative technologies. In particular, we expect to see increased demand for patient communication platforms, telehealth monitoring businesses and many other smaller digital platform providers that can offer more consumer-centric healthcare going forwards.
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