By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the medical industry with one of its most significant challenges yet. While the virus has pushed health care systems to their breaking point, some positives have arisen from this hardship. The demand for digital health services has skyrocketed, and many of these tools will continue to improve health care after the pandemic.
Healthcare organizations have had to turn to new technology in response to the extremes of COVID-19. In doing so, the medical industry has become more resilient, safe and efficient than ever. Many of these technologies are so advantageous that they’ll become standard practice in post-COVID medicine.
Many digital health services will remain long after researchers find a way to halt the pandemic, but here are five of the most significant.
1. Remote Consultation Services
Few medical technologies have been as crucial during COVID-19 as telemedicine, specifically remote consultation. Between January and early June, telehealth adoption rose by 50% as concerns over catching the virus in hospital waiting rooms grew. In April, remote consultation accounted for almost half of all Medicare primary care visits.
Now that so many health systems support remote consultation, it won’t likely go away. These services have improved public safety and made health care more accessible. In a nation where access to health care has traditionally fallen short, that’s an indispensable resource.
2. AI Outbreak Forecasting
Before the pandemic, AI in health care was more conjecture than reality, but that’s changing. An AI platform called BlueDot flagged the first COVID-19 outbreak nine days before the World Health Organization alerted the world to the disease. Since then, various organizations have used AI to track and predict COVID hotspots.
If this technology had seen widespread use before the pandemic, authorities could have acted earlier and minimized the damage. Now that the world is aware of this advantage, AI forecasting might play a key role in future health care. These systems can predict outbreaks far before humans, helping prevent future pandemics.
3. Medical Robots
Like AI, robots saw little use in health care before the pandemic. As hospitals’ resources stretched thin, the appeal of automation became more apparent. Medical robots enable hospitals to treat more patients without additional staff, prevent cross-contamination and focus on more urgent work while automating straightforward tasks.
More than 70% of health care executives say robotics will be crucial to tomorrow’s medical systems. Rising skill shortages and high burnout rates in medicine further amplify the need for medical robots. As these technologies advance, automation will only become more accessible and affordable.
4. Contactless Billing and Payment
Traditionally, hospital payments often happened in person, but that trend faded as the pandemic surged. It quickly became evident how a system with so many contact points isn’t suited to centers that handle contagious diseases. With the rise of telehealth came an increased reliance on digital payments.
As at-home treatments become popular, home medical equipment billing likewise grows in urgency. If patients don’t need to leave home for a consultation, they should also be able to make payments from their phone or computer.
Consultations aren’t the only aspect of medicine that has gone remote during the COVID-19 pandemic. As hospitals become crowded and fears of contracting COVID-19 rise, remote treatments have also risen. Doctors have been using telehealth apps to treat cancer patients in their homes, deliver drugs and track patients’ recovery.
The increased accessibility these services bring will make them relevant even after the pandemic subsides. People concerned about infections can use them to steer clear of crowded hospitals. Now that telehealth services are more widely available, they could be a lifesaver for high-risk patients.
Pandemic Health Technology Isn’t Going Anywhere
Few people, if anyone, would argue the pandemic has been positive for the health care industry. Still, these hardships have led to several improvements to the sector that will long outlast COVID-19. Through this pandemic, medtech has become more reliable, accessible and effective.