How the COVID-19 pandemic changed the Healthcare space

The worst of environmental degradation or even the biggest of asteroid collision couldn’t do what the invisible-to-the-human eye Novel Corona Virus of 2019 could do. It flattened the earth in its entirety, bringing the whole of humanity to a single place and pushing them back into dark ages.

Still reeling under the fear (yes, more fear) of an imminent impact, humanity has changed for both the better and the worse in quite a few ways that include ways in which healthcare shall henceforth be administered. While the likes of work-from-home, buy-at-home (e-commerce), no-contact buying, selling and so on are expected given the need to maintain certain distances, they have left their tell-tale signs and effects in the medicines and healthcare (and related) industries. The more prominent changes worth noting include:

  • Focus shifted to treating symptoms at patients’ homes or dedicated facilities

Prior to the pandemic’s bulldozing most hospitals and healthcare facilities worldwide, the norm was at best to admit patients within the hospital if home could not suffice or was insufficient to handle certain medical conditions. With the pandemic overwhelming most hospitals and appearing to be the breeding grounds for the virus, newer forms of remote treatments came to the fore for the first time, with the prominent ones including shifting patients to specially created facilities, either close to or at a distance from the main hospital and treating even confirmed covid patients in the confines of their home once their condition stabilized. Going forward, out-patient could be the norm with the availability of 3rd party nursing staff from independent registered sources. This could be an enormous help to the healthcare facility by letting them treat only the most critical of cases.

  • Immunization before the spread has been taken to be more important than general health

The antidote for the smallpox virus took over a decade to formulate and arrive at. In contrast, the vaccine for the Covid-19 virus took just 20% of that time. While the results have been mixed with a high degree of success, what it has shown is that push coming to shove, healthcare sciences can put up a fight.

Add to that these days the aid from digital and data means which help medical sciences read and analyze data to predict the likely courses of diseases besides deciphering trends of diseases worldwide in certain situations and circumstances.

With each step of medical science and healthcare being administered and assisted by data-gathering devices, including IoT-enabled ones, the field of life sciences is a hotbed that is expected to not only help derive the right medicines but also do so with pinpoint accuracy and needed derivatize that take into account the condition and characteristics of each patient. Customization of medication could be the outcome of the extensive use of data in designing and creating medicines. And one of its biggest uses was during the pandemic.

  • Online & remote consultation is today an established norm

Like the saying among the Arabs that when Prophet Muhammad didn’t go to the mountains, the mountains came to him; the field of healthcare, post the pandemic, is seeing the increasing use of online and remote consultation for every manner of treatment. Be it common diseases that come about due to the change of weather—stomach ailments, sore throats, dental health to mental health—everything can today be treated remotely without the need to visit a medical facility.

While apps have today come about giving a line of sight to patients and healthcare professionals, what has truly added to make it a viable option are wearable devices and emergency health records that are kept on the cloud.

With these in place, pandemic or no pandemic, a visit to a health facility may shortly be entirely unnecessary with the MP knowing in exact terms the condition of a patient and prescribing the right course of action with or without medication and required support.

  • Non-communicable diseases are seen as the drivers in aiding the spread of the pandemic

The Covid-19 has shown us the value of being healthy and staying away from lifestyle diseases, including diabetes, heart diseases and cancers. The presence of diseases, including these, aggravate adverse health conditions because the body’s immune defences remain compromised and that too for a fairly long duration.

A study in Nigeria of Covid patients has shown that close to 25% of patients had at least the comorbidity, of which the most common were hypertension at 75% and diabetes covering the rest. In the changed scenario, the emphasis could be to stay away from such diseases as the way of staying healthy even during conditions like a pandemic.

  • More emphasis on people’s mental health

The Covid-19 pandemic was an unprecedented event in the entire history of humankind that has affected us in multiple ways. The disease itself took likes in the thousands adding fear in the minds of the elderly, the infirm and those who had no means to fight the disease in any material way.

The ensuing lockdown only compounded problems in multiple ways. Without any way of going out and venting feelings, issues got bottled inside, looking for just one opportunity to explode. It wasn’t simply staying inside that created problems. Jobs were lost as industries after industries closed down.

Depression, sadness and uncertainty only added. In insolation, with nothing much to do and anxiety catching up, substance abuse is said to have grown in leaps and bounds. In the overall scenario, the long-term effects of job losses and addictions to alcohol and psychotropic substances is likely to have a negative impact on a substantial part of the workforce.

With no way out, a new form of working has crept in to keep the industry alive – Work-from-home. It’s only adding to the gradual making of a perennial office at home where work gets accomplished 24 x 7 with practically no time for the family. In the long run, this shall surely have an impact on mental health and relations within the family.

While the majority of the cases shall be addressed with the cloud of the pandemic slowly clearing, it may take a long time given that jobs worldwide have been affected, relations lost to the diseases, and in quite a few cases, the most troublesome place in the world, the office has now come into the home, for good. A mix of these is sure to stay around for some time and show its effects in the form of increased medical and counselling needs.

  • Increase in the use of IoT-enabled wearables

While wearables were always around for close to half a decade (if not more) now in the form of distance trackers, heart-rate trackers, and others that did rudimentary, such activities, things took a steep climb in the wearables market after the advent of the pandemic where there was palpable fear arising out of the state of one’s health. What this has led to is a plethora of devices as far apart as Apple Watch, WHOOP Strap, Fitbit, Zephyr, BioHarness and the likes. These could, among others, indicate physiological changes, heart rate, heart rate variability, resting rate and respiration, stress, activity, and also sleep. Integrated together, it could exhibit signal to noise ratios (SNR) that may predict things out of sync and help take corrective action right when it is most needed.

Wearables, in fact, are a separate science in itself, given that it’s the first line of information that feeds storage in the cloud for accurate and often pinpointed medications to save lives.

– M. Purushoutham