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Is digital health here to stay?

TAGS: Telemedicine
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Day one of Omnia Health Live Americas put the spotlight on the popularity of digital health and how it can be leveraged to manage future crises.

On day one of Omnia Health Live Americas, Kaveh Safavi, Senior Managing Director, Global Health Practice, Accenture, gave the keynote speech on ‘What does the consumer think about digital health?’

He focused on consumers and digital health and a recent research that shows a very interesting phenomenon, which is that digital health while very appealing to consumers has shown some stalling in its adoption.

We are all counting on digital health to making healthcare more accessible, affordable and effective. But simply the availability of digital health by itself isn’t going to be enough. It is important to understand why and how people use digital tools and what is necessary to fulfil that promise.

In a research conducted at the end of 2019, it was found that there appears to be a plateauing in consumers use of digital health overall. There are three drivers of this plateau:

  1. If an individual has a bad experience, they are less likely to come back the second time.
  2. If you don’t trust who has your information or what they are going to do with the data.
  3. If the providers don’t recommend the use of technology, consumers won’t use it.

Safavi said that but when COVID-19 showed up it accelerated digital healthcare. He shared that in the U.S. around the end of 2019-start of 2020, around 5 per cent of all patient encounters was being done over a virtual platform. By May, this had reached almost 50 per cent of all visits being conducted virtually.

“There were a lot of reasons for this but one of the most important is that it was forced adoption, there were no alternatives,” said Safavi. “Other factors for the increase included the healthcare insurers decision to pay for virtual visits. Also, license laws were liberalised. Clinics opened in June and there has already been a reduction in virtual visits and the number of physical visits has increased. The real question is where will that number stabilise? Our research suggests it might be 30 per cent.”

He concluded by saying that today it is not just a physical or digital world but a blended physical and virtual world and recognising that it is a blending and not a transition is a critical part of the overall process.

Digital first

At the ‘Leveraging digital health to predict and manage future health crises’ session, Carlos Otero, CIO - Hospital Italiano de Bueno Aires, highlighted that COVID-19 completely transformed the way people were seeking consultations at his hospital. Telehealth is not only important for physicians and patients, he stressed, but also for other departments within a hospital. “Therefore, we need to change our infrastructure, and the way we provide systems to operate in the new normal,” he added.

While Nick Guldemond, Professor of Integrated Care and Technology, Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, said the digital uptake in healthcare during COVID-19 skyrocketed. Currently, there are interesting applications in digital health in different disease areas such as mental health, cardiovascular risk management and diabetes, among others. But these are usually standalone solutions.

“If you are thinking about efficiency and quality of care, it’s more a matter of how you plan and organise and work together, rather than having only a one-to-one context with the patient or with a colleague,” he stressed. “This would involve health communication with primary care providers and social care providers and work together as a team. While the perception is that digital might contribute to better outcomes and quality of care, in many countries that is still not the case. We still have a long way to go in order to make digital work for people with complex diseases.”

However, he emphasised that there are some promising developments in store. There are various platforms combining different elements of the healthcare system such as diagnosis, triage, patient navigation etc.

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