How Healthcare Has Been Forever Changed by the Pandemic

To accommodate and protect patients and providers alike, healthcare was forced to rapidly adapt and evolve.

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The healthcare field has routinely prioritized innovation and advancement in order to better identify, treat and cure patient conditions. In the last year alone, healthcare has changed more than in any other period in modern history due to the pandemic and the challenges it presented. To accommodate and protect patients and providers alike, healthcare was forced to rapidly adapt and evolve, resulting in stark changes that will influence the field for years to come.

The recent progress witnessed in healthcare suggests a continued trend of development and experimentation geared especially toward distributed and digitally-enabled care, both of which ultimately focus on the well-being of patients through reduction of cost and time. Historically, those who innovate and adapt during times of crisis tend to outperform their competitors and peers, and the widespread inclination of innovation among healthcare facilities and professionals will undoubtedly contribute to long-term growth and prosperity for providers, patients and organizations at large.

What the world has witnessed over the last year in healthcare demonstrates the field's propensity for change and evolution in pursuit of efficient, effective and optimized care.

Distributed Care: Lowering the Cost of Care as Needed

Rather than isolating healthcare to specialized facilities, distributed care encourages the dissemination of offerings that meet patients where they are. In other words, distributed care makes quality care more accessible by extending options to homes and community staples like grocery stores and churches.

Distributed care is also more preventative than reactive, addressing the root causes of ill health rather than the symptoms that emerge as consequences of environmental factors. By targeting catalysts like poor nutrition, mental distress and sedentary lifestyles, distributed care stands to improve the general health of society while also preventing patients from needing expensive, specialized care later on in life.

Another benefit of distributed care is improved accessibility. Communities in remote or rural areas often lack access to specialized facilities, intensive treatments or even a general hospital. These communities stand to benefit from distributed care, as the individuals within such communities might otherwise struggle to receive proper treatment due to a lack of availability or distrust of larger facilities.

In practice, distributed care can take many forms. It may entail providing specialized equipment to patients so they may remotely monitor, document and communicate vital measurements and readings to their healthcare teams — a practice that was enacted by Sheba Medical Center in Israel during the pandemic.

In Shanghai, the launch of 11 online hospitals (in connection with public hospitals) allowed patients to connect with medical professionals from the safety of their homes during the outbreak. With more than 14,000 visits and over 4,000 prescriptions in just two months, these online hospitals expanded opportunities for high-quality, specialized care to individuals regardless of where they were.

By distributing care, healthcare facilities can encourage more preventative practices, address root causes of poor health and lower costs by reducing the need for expensive facilities or equipment.

Digitally-Enabled Care: The Rise of Telemedicine and Tech-Inspired Care

Prior to the pandemic, telemedicine was already a hot topic, but remained something of a luxury. When social distancing became the norm, telemedicine quickly became a necessity, and its role during the pandemic was essential to promoting health and safety. As restrictions are lifted, it seems telemedicine trends will persist thanks to their improvements in accessibility, connection and care efficacy.

Tech-informed care plays directly into the execution of distributed care, facilitating the extension of healthcare services and resources through technological and digital means.

Telemedicine — especially the practices of app-based healthcare, wearable tech and remote consultations — makes quality, specialized healthcare more accessible regardless of a patient's location, mobility or access to transportation. During the pandemic, stay-at-home restrictions drastically limited the opportunities for in-person medical visits, resulting in the rapid adoption of telehealth practices to help keep patients healthy. This shift has proven beneficial beyond that application, appealing to patients in remote areas, those who are contagiously ill and those who have health concerns about travel (including individuals with autoimmune conditions).

The integration of digital healthcare has also facilitated stronger, more cohesive connections between patients and their providers. From the use of wearable technology that monitors and transmits vital signs to rapid turnarounds for virtual appointment requests, telemedicine has almost counterintuitively promoted stronger relationships between healthcare professionals and patients. By allowing and encouraging patients to more regularly inform their providers about their health (and in some cases, enabling the automated communication of essential information), telehealth can promote more individualized, timely care.

As founder of The Allure Group, a network of New York City-based skilled nursing facilities, I've overseen the group's investment in technology to encourage more comprehensive care and communication between patients and providers. PadInMotion technology — i.e., Samsung tablets placed at all 1,400 bedsides within their facilities — enabled patients to connect with loved ones when government-imposed lockdowns were in effect.

Additionally, the Allure Group has partnered with Vis a Vis Health to provide handheld devices to their patients when they are discharged, making possible streamlined transitional care and continued communication between patients and healthcare professionals.

At large, healthcare has benefited immensely from the integration of technology during the pandemic, and this development is especially true regarding the identification and treatment of conditions through the use of AI and robotics. Outfitting wearable tech or connected databases with AI can help medical professionals and patients limit the development of preventable conditions, while also detecting the onset of illness sooner through data analysis. Prevention and early detection are becoming cornerstones of modern medicine, and through technology like AI and wearables, healthcare professionals can better achieve these goals and provide better care to patients before health conditions become critical.

One of the strongest takeaways for the healthcare field from the pandemic is simple: community health depends on collaboration, innovation and expansion. By prioritizing distributed and digitally-enabled care moving forward, healthcare professionals can promote higher standards of health among all their patients while also cutting costs for everyone.

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