What are the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and how can we address them by implementing technological innovations for healthcare?
COVID has propelled us into a different future – and there is no going back. This is probably nowhere truer than in healthcare.
Healthcare is back on the list, and arguably on top of it, of critical infrastructures. This means two things: First, more money. In Germany, a flood of money is already being made available. For instance, the public health service, hitherto chronically under-financed, is set to receive 3 bn EUR, mainly for new IT and staff, with possibly more to come. In addition, 4.3 bn EUR goes into short-term digital upgrades of hospitals. White tech and bioscience initiatives are set to receive public grants. Second, more state control, regulation, and ownership. On a downside, this may discourage much-needed private investments and, paradoxically, even weaken our ability to innovate healthcare.
On a larger scale, COVID has exposed some of the fallacies of healthcare in the way we have come to organize it. Mainly: leave no one behind. Prevention is an obvious necessity in communicable diseases, and this impulse will not be lost in the world of degenerative diseases. Only, we need a better approach. In COVID, we have started to digitally tailor communication about risks and behaviours to individuals and individual situations.
Such precision communication is a key asset for prevention and healthcare in general. And it will help address the social determinants of health, also seen in COVID. More powerful, more frequent, and at-home diagnostics is another tech achievement from COVID that will spill into healthcare. An increasing backbone of IT and digital technologies in healthcare also has a wider implication. Larger and more powerful platforms will emerge that allow for seamless (as opposed to periodic) healthcare. And these backbones will eventually create interoperability of national health care systems and solutions, e.g., quality standards and approaches to financing and value-based care.
This is far from the complete description – and a preliminary one. As a closing point – science, technology, and innovation are obviously the way forward to combat diseases. This lesson is good news for healthcare in the 21st century.
One of the key strategic priorities of The Health Foundation is “data analytics for better health.” What can data analytics actually do for better health?
Data and data-driven technologies have the potential to revolutionize health care. AI can help us detect diseases like cancer much earlier; remote monitoring using data from wearable technology could move care closer to home and encourage health-promoting behaviours. Data can also be used to improve patient care. For example, in a Health Foundation-funded project, a team in the NHS has developed a tool based on machine learning methods that effectively assists clinicians with identifying high-risk patients entering A&E and triaging appropriately.
Was the power of data sufficiently harnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Data was used extensively during the COVID pandemic. Rapid innovation, using data, allowed the development of treatments and vaccines as well as tracking the virus. However, in the social care sector, there hasn’t been the same investment to allow data to be used.
This meant that it’s often been difficult to understand the impact and improve care for people who receive social care. There has also been a growing digital divide. Through our partnership with the Ada Lovelace Foundation, we’ve explored how the rapid expansion of digital technologies during the pandemic could disadvantage some groups who may not have access to a smartphone or the internet.
Note from the report: Nearly a fifth (19%) of respondents said they did not have access to a smartphone, and another 14% said they do not have access to the internet. 8% said they had neither a smartphone nor access to the internet. The most clinically vulnerable, those who identified as having a disability and those on the lowest incomes (less than £20,000), were among those who most likely not to have access to either broadband or a smartphone, in addition to those above the age of 65.