How does the COVID-19 pandemic accelerate innovations in health?

It is impressive and heart-warming to see countries put their hands together and erase their borders to tackle the coronavirus’s sudden attack. We ought to reflect and learn our lessons as we brace ourselves for the second wave of surging cases. This pandemic has accelerated innovations at a mind-boggling speed, especially in health. We have adapted ourselves within months, which should have taken us decades in normal circumstances. In a time of dire need, we called for creative solutions and that was exactly what happened.

We can clearly see how much havoc COVID-19 has already wreaked. Globally, the pandemic was projected to dip most countries into recession with a historic contraction of per capita income and advanced economies are estimated to shrink remarkably. That was after the first wave back in April, while it is clear now the second wave is at the doorstep.

Wearable devices collect your personal health data, an example of data in health

It did not even take COVID-19 to realize the persisting problems of overly burdened healthcare workers, such as high demand, shortage of staff, or inefficient workflows and processes. The World Medical Association already warned us: nearly half of the world’s physicians experience symptoms of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, confirming the significantly high levels of stress and burnout. That was in 2018, two years before the dawning of the current pandemic. The only difference now is that there’s a need for greater efficiency and responsiveness more than ever before. The longer it persists, the more damage will be inflicted. The world needs change, and we need it fast.

So why is innovation so unsuccessful in health care?

To answer that, we must break down the problem, looking at the different types of innovation and the forces that affect them. There are three kinds of innovation that can make health care better and cheaper. The first one is consumer-focused, which has to do with the ways consumers buy and use health care. The second kind of innovation has to do with technology: developing new products and treatments or otherwise improving care. Finally, the third kind of innovation has to do with new business models, particularly those that involve horizontal or vertical integration of separate health care organizations or activities. The six forces — industry players, funding, public policy, technology, customers, and accountability — can either help or hinder innovation efforts. Individually or in combination, the forces will affect the three types of innovation in different ways. Not to mention, it is very likely that those who use a product or service are not those who pay for that product or service.

The Healthcare system differs from country to country, with legislators playing different roles in each. Only they can remove the barriers to health care innovation resulting from current laws and regulations.

There are three kinds of innovation that can make health care better and cheaper, and there are six forces that can either help or hinder these innovation efforts. Additionally, the Healthcare system differs from country to country.

How did COVID-19 change that?

These constraints really put creativity to work and have opened up a fresh avenue for innovations. A pearl of common wisdom suggests that compliance restrictions and a lack of resources are the main obstacles to innovation. Only by eradicating all constraints can creativity and innovative thinking thrive. But that is not necessarily true. 145 empirical studies on the effects of constraints on creativity and innovation found that individuals, teams, and organizations alike benefit from a healthy dose of limitations. It is only when the controls become too high that they stifle creativity and innovation.

Constraints provide focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to search for and connect information from different sources to generate novel ideas for new products, services, or business processes. In a few words, COVID-19 created a restrained environment that forced the world to bring out creativity and innovative thinking.

Constraints provide focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to search for and connect information from different sources to generate novel ideas.

Additionally, the pandemic united us all. Suddenly, we are fighting a common enemy. Everything had to change. Services went remote, new hospitals were built within days, and everybody stayed off the street in lockdowns for weeks to protect each other. Healthtech companies piled in to help with these unprecedented challenges and were welcomed with unusually open arms.

However, the most apparent change is the adoption of telehealth. “Two to seven percent of doctors were ready to offer video-consultations (prior to the pandemic), but now it’s closer to 60%,” said Dr. Gottfried Ludewig, Director of ‘Digitalisation and Innovation’, Federal Ministry of Health, Germany. The country’s contact tracing app called Corona Warn-App has seen about 17.5 million downloads and Dr. Ludewig noted that the app has a connection to laboratories that offer COVID-19 testing, which helps inform people much faster than before.

More proof?

During the pandemic, consumers have moved dramatically toward online channels, and companies and industries have responded in turn. The survey results confirm the rapid shift toward interacting with customers through digital channels. They also show that adoption rates are years ahead of where they were when previous surveys were conducted.

What kind of digital innovations sprouted during the time of the pandemic?

The most apparent one includes digital engagement, where care providers used remote patient engagement to communicate quickly at scale while keeping their staff and patients safe. Patient data exchange is another digital innovation for better and faster treatments when ICU beds run low. During the crisis, Philips collaborated with the Dutch government to create an online portal that supported Dutch hospitals in exchanging COVID-19 patient data. And there are many more!

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic is only the catalyst that boosted the somewhat sluggish healthcare industry. Now that we have received more attention, we need to take full advantage of this opportunity and advance the industry forward. Capital investments in healthcare have already exceeded annual expectations. Fundings are pouring into digital health as it is set to be the largest year ever and we still have one more quarter to go. As entrepreneurs in health, we need to drive this surging wave and use this momentum to change healthcare for the better!

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