The Changing Face of Digital Health In The Age of COVID-19

Vinisha Joshi

By Vinisha Joshi, research content developer, Global Market Insights.

A major subject of concern amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic spread and related financial crisis is- could this situation be the trigger for a new era of technology and emergence of widespread acclamation of digital health platforms and applications?

The massive outbreak of dreaded coronavirus has brought about a radical change in what is usually perceived as “normal.” With over more than million cases worldwide, COVID-19 has sent a wave of fear across the masses, causing an upheaval not only in their lives but also across various economies and businesses, given the stringent lockdown policies.

Major industry verticals have been touted to be severely affected by the pandemic explosion. However, one of the industries that has been successful in keeping its business alive amid the ongoing financial crisis is the digital health market. The corona pandemic has demonstrated the pivotal role of digital health in the medical fraternity. Although digital health was already on the rise before the humongous pandemic spread, in the wake of the virus, it will become an integral part of the routine medical treatment in the years ahead.

At this time, digital health stands as an ideal solution for both the healthcare professionals and patients as it completely reduces the risk of infection spread while offering complete and accurate healthcare expertise. While the global scientific community is racing towards development of effective vaccines or therapeutics, digital health remains the most essential defense.

The proliferation of artificial intelligence, cutting-edge technologies, and big-data have been majorly responsible for advancing digital health and are expected to drive the demand for the same over the next few years. COVID-19 undeniably, is anticipated to stay for a longer period of time due to delay in proper treatment methods and vaccines.

In this scenario, numerous tech firms are trying to get involved in digital health while undertaking various distinctive measures. For instance, IBM, a tech giant, in March, announced the launch of coronavirus map and application for keeping a track of COVID-19 infections.

According to official sources, the company’s The Weather Channel has introduced new tools for tracking coronavirus infection. The app would showcase estimated COVID-19 cases on the map that would further help individuals and business establishments to keep a track on the spread of virus around them. Above that, the free tools are likely to run on the IBM public cloud and implement IBM Watson with an intent of scrutinizing data from the WHO in tandem with state and national government bodies.

Even before the outbreak, digital technology was at peak in China and was extensively used to accelerate, optimize, and complement health care services, which enabled the region to make use of these in difficult times like the ongoing health crisis.

China: Origin of digital health during coronavirus pandemic times

COVID-19 originated from the Wuhan district of China in late 2019, which is also considered to be a key hotspot for digital health adoption during current pandemic situation. As the country first hit by the outbreak, China unveiled a line of digital solutions throughout different stages. On 2nd February 2020, the National Health commission issued a notice addressing all health authorities to strengthen the use of digital solutions to support the response to coronavirus, in partnership with ministers across different sectors and current service providers.

In response to this, the national, as well as local, health authorities began involving private companies to expand service coverage as the outbreak unfolded. Intrinsic efforts were being made to engage a range of companies for enabling the feasibility of virtual or/an AI-powered healthcare services.

Pioneers in digital health

It does not come as a surprise that pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals are depicting an intense keenness in leveraging digital health solutions to attain several advantages, right from better connectivity to both the frontline warriors and patients, to having a distinct competitive edge.

In lieu of this, pharmaceutical majors are working relentlessly on forging new partnerships and refining relationships with the digital health industry, to move a step in digital development with an assurance of better patient care and outcome.

One such company, Conversa Health, put forth the development plans for its digital health platform. For realization of this, the company on June 11 announced that it has raised funds of USD 12 million in a Series B round, bolstering the demand for digital health. Sources close to the company, highlighted the its main motive for the strategic innovation, which is to emerge as the digital front door for the medical ecosystem. The automated chat-based platform would help patients understand if they need a virtual or in-person assistance with a doctor based on the systems.

In yet other instance, Cleveland Clinic, in partnership with Epic, is using remote patient monitoring for a large number of COVID-19 patients. The tool that allows providers to assure proper care of patients is connected to patient medical records and is made available via Epic’s MyChart patient portal. This initiative would support the management in patient care in an extremely efficient and quick manner while keeping both the frontline professionals and patients safe.

Digital health revolution in India in the era of COVID-19

In the Indian subcontinent, digitization took pace post Government of India’s launch of ‘Digital India’ campaign in 2015. The campaign emphasizes to transform India into a knowledgeable economy, empowered with on the go access to services, governance, and information across various sectors. This allowed the country to stand tall as the second-fastest digital adopter in the world, with over half a billion internet users and more than 350 million smartphone users.

However, the scenario of digitization has completely transformed in the nation with the outbreak of COVID-19, and enforcement of complete lockdown. Digital health has become more prominent than ever, allowing patients and healthcare workers to be distant from each other while continuously ensuring the spread of correct and accurate information in terms of the people’s health.

Post lockdown, many state governments, hospitals, e-pharmacies, and corporates have begun adopting telemedicine in their employee wellness strategies. Moreover, most of the registered medical practitioners have been implementing teleconsultation as it truly comes handy in the current times where hundreds of doctors have lost their lives to the dreaded disease. Teleconsultation guidelines have been issued by the ministry of health and family welfare, in association with Board of Governors, MCI, and NITI Aayog. These guidelines have been issued in an effort to decongest the healthcare facilities amidst the lockdown scenes while not inducing any disruption to the lockdown measures.

Although COVID-19 has offered a silver lining to digital health platforms, cyber security concerns associated with use of these cannot be ignored. In the backdrop of coronavirus, various healthcare organizations have observed a potential surge in cyber exploitation. According to a reliable report, cyberattacks in the healthcare sector rose by 150% during January to February 2020 as the unethical hackers sought to take advantage of system vulnerabilities during the pandemic crisis.

Brno University Hospital, on March 13, claimed that the organization was hit by a cyber-attack resulting into shutdown of their entire IT network. This eventually led to a delay in urgent surgical interventions and transfer of critical patients to different hospitals.

These instances put a question mark on the safety of use of digital health platforms. However, major industry giants and pharma companies are progressively looking forward to use of these in critical times with proper security and reliability guidelines.

It remains to be seen how the global digital health market will fare in the upcoming years with rising COVID-19 cases, advancing technologies, and government reforms.

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