Healthcare Platformization Will Prepare Us For The Next Pandemic
By Dan Leibu, co-founder and chief operating officer, League.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry rapidly adopted new technologies and processes to improve care delivery and keep patients and staff safe. The adoption of telemedicine and digital front doors has allowed healthcare providers to continue delivering care to patients while minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19 and making care more accessible to patients. Yet, the pandemic exposed gaps in our healthcare system, including the need for an underlying platform that connects all aspects of patients’ health journeys.
As we move into the endemic stage of COVID, with President Biden set to end all COVID-19 emergency declarations in May 2023, we have the chance to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of our national pandemic response and apply those lessons to make our healthcare system even more resilient and prepared for future pandemics and crises.
A platform approach to contact tracing
When the pandemic reached full force in Spring 2020, it generated a rush to implement solutions for contact tracing to stem the rapid spread of the virus. By December 2020, at least 74 countries had launched apps to automate and assist contact tracing. In the U.S., companies including Apple and Google rushed to provide aid by rolling out their own contact-tracing technology, but these solutions ultimately proved too disjointed and did not gain the necessary traction to be fully effective.
A platform approach to healthcare would allow for much more efficient and widespread contact tracing during the next pandemic. Healthcare platformization could facilitate the wide-spread implementation of a single, unified contract tracing solution that would provide a streamlined and accessible user experience.
Expanding care access
During spikes of the COVID-19 pandemic, overburdened providers, high patient loads, and limited hospital beds necessitated hospitals to triage care. Likewise, many patients avoided visiting hospitals and doctors’ offices to protect themselves or were turned away. A study by the Center for Disease Control found that by June 30, 2020, an estimated 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided seeking medical care because of COVID-19, including emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%). Avoidance of emergency care was more prevalent among those with underlying medical conditions and disabilities, unpaid caregivers for adults, and Black and Hispanic adults, demonstrating the effect of social determinants of health on care access.
In addition to the obvious risks associated with delaying emergency care, persistent difficulty accessing routine and preventive care can lead to serious medical conditions going undiagnosed or unchecked. Many patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders were forced to manage their health at home.
Virtual health provided part of the solution by enabling patients to access care from home without threat of COVID-19 transmission. While telehealth solutions existed before the pandemic, their usage jumped significantly in response to COVID-19, with 46% of patients in the U.S. reporting using telehealth in 2020, up from 11% in 2019. These solutions met an urgent need in the moment and showed promise as a long-term solution for both routine and episodic care.
During the next pandemic, healthcare platformization will only bolster the availability and effectiveness of virtual care. Rather than relying on a sea of point solutions that have overcrowded the digital ecosystem, an integrated healthcare platform will put more control in the hands of patients and enable more effective and accessible remote care and health management. Virtual care will evolve from an add-on feature to a standard option as the “click-and-mortar” model of healthcare – combining virtual and in-person care options – becomes commonplace.
Reducing healthcare worker burnout
While COVID-19 may be reaching an endemic stage, an epidemic of burnout continues to threaten the healthcare industry. Healthcare workers reported significant increases in anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout in response to the pandemic, and increasing numbers of healthcare workers left the profession due to burnout or safety concerns. According to a 2021 Medscape survey, about one in five healthcare workers in the U.S. had considered leaving their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These trends are exacerbating country-wide healthcare workforce shortages: the U.S. is predicted to face a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians and 1.2 million registered nurses in the next 10 years.
When implemented appropriately, healthcare platformization can help to reduce burnout and have a positive downstream effect on clinician retention. Digital platforms can automate time-consuming tasks and reduce administrative burden, freeing up healthcare workers to focus on the most motivating aspect of their work: providing patient care. Digital health solutions and telehealth also enable clinicians to remotely provide care and manage patient needs from anywhere. This is particularly critical in times of high patient volume. A single seamless, accessible platform to integrate the jumble of point solutions into one platform will enable clinicians to provide holistic, flexible care to more patients without overburdening themselves.
A more resilient healthcare industry
Healthcare platformization will provide benefits to patients and providers alike by improving access to care, reducing healthcare worker burnout, and enabling seamless, consumer-friendly healthcare management. This single, multifunctional platform will optimize care for healthcare consumers both in “normal” times and in the event of a future pandemic or crisis. The healthcare industry already showed great resilience in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing life-saving vaccinations and care to millions. With a platform approach, the healthcare industry will become even more resilient and prepared to manage future pandemics.