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The Impact of Coronavirus on the Healthcare Industry

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Corona isn’t the first pandemic that the world has faced. It could well go down in history as one of the worst, though. The virus itself doesn’t seem that scary. Eight out of ten people will experience nothing more than mild flu symptoms. The current mortality rate, according to the World Health Organization, is only 3% to 4%.

That, however, can change fast. What makes this virus unique is how infectious it is. The United Kingdom and the United States are amongst the two most developed nations in the world. They have access to state-of-the-art medicine and healthcare systems.

You’d think that if any country could get a handle on the situation, it would be these developed countries. Yet COVID-19 is tearing through these countries like wildfire. Deaths in the United States alone could reach as high as 200,000 people.

We’re yet to see the virus run loose in a country where healthcare facilities are less advanced. The prospect, however, is frightening.

One thing that this virus has done is to highlight the inadequacies in our healthcare systems. The world was not ready for an outbreak of this nature. That’s why, in this post, we’re going to look at five ways that the Coronavirus will change the healthcare industry.

Expect More Scalable Healthcare Resources

Hospitalization before the outbreak was declining. We’ve got a very different set of health conditions than what was prevalent 50 years ago. You’re a lot less likely to die of an infectious disease in childhood now.

As a result, the need for new hospitals also started to decline. Lower occupancy in some countries saw the number of beds being reduced. It seemed like a good move at the time. The chances of even 20% of your population being dangerously ill at the same time were slim.

COVID-19 has shown us that we need scalable resources. In healthcare in the future, we’ll see more temporary treatment facilities that can be scaled up as necessary. This, in turn, means a significant investment in healthcare over the next few years.

We can expect healthcare costs to rise initially as a result. In the long-term, though, this is essential. Should there be another outbreak, mobile facilities that can be set up as necessary will help to curb the spread of the disease.

The Rise of Telehealth

Telehealth is already on the rise in countries like the United States. The current lockdown conditions have made us focus more on telehealth solutions. In most countries, people who believe they have COVID-19 are asked to phone their doctor before reporting at her office.

The health care workers discuss their symptoms over the phone. This reduces the risk of the transmission of the disease. You might, for example, believe that you have the virus. Your symptoms might not be severe enough to warrant testing.

The danger of going to the doctor’s office is that you’re exposing yourself and others. If you don’t have the disease, you might pick it up at the surgery. If you do have it, you risk infecting others.

When the crisis has passed, telehealth solutions will provide a convenient option for people. Many dentists in the United States already offer consultations via video messaging. While these won’t do much when someone needs a filling, they can be useful if someone needs advice on a minor matter. The dentist discusses your issue and gives remedies that you can try in the interim.

While this technology’s usefulness at the moment is limited, IoT devices could see it becoming mainstream. In the future, we’re likely to see an increase in home monitoring devices. You might, for example, have a sensor implanted into your skin. This could relay your vital statistics, check for enzymatic activity, and so on.  

We’ll See a Change in How Pharmaceuticals are Developed

Another change is in how pharmaceuticals are developed. Pharmaceutical companies currently work on a profit motive. It’s not profitable to create a vaccine that may or may not be required. We’ve already seen the effect that this thinking can have on the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Pharmaceutical companies could develop new formulations of antibiotics that are more effective. They’ve held back from doing so because the costs make research prohibitive.

COVID-19 could change this. Governments might consider improving incentives for companies who do this kind of research. This could, in turn, lead to more new drugs being developed at lower costs.

Artificial Intelligence Becomes More Important

AI’s ability to process big datasets will become critical in the future. We’ll see AI playing a more prominent role in the diagnostic process. It’ll also be able to take some of the pressure off healthcare professionals by automating routine tasks. It will also play a role in helping to create scalable facilities by reducing staffing requirements.

A doctor’s visit in the future could be very different. Health monitoring devices implanted under the skin could monitor changes in the patient’s condition. AI could be helpful in the diagnostic process. Think of it as combining the search power of Google with verified medical records.

In other words, doctors will be able to input the patient’s symptoms so that AI can check medical databases for matches. AI will present the options, and the doctor will make the final call. This will make it easier to diagnose the disease earlier and more effectively.

There Will be Privacy Concerns to Consider

South Korea used an aggressive tracing approach to contain the spread of the virus. This included scanning financial records, security cameras, and even the GPS data of citizens who tested positive for the virus.

Authorities sent out emergency messages to everyone in the area if a positive case emerged. This alert included the age, sex, name of the infected, and also details of places they’d visited recently. Those who thought they’d been in contact with the person would present themselves for testing.

This was done as an emergency measure, but it does highlight privacy concerns. Does the government have the right to override a person’s privacy? During a pandemic, most would say, “Yes.”

What about after the pandemic is over? We might not see GPS tracking or the scanning of financial records at this scale. That doesn’t mean that our privacy is safe, though. If AI scans through thousands of medical records to find a diagnosis for an illness, is that considered a breach of patient privacy?

If medical professionals are expected to report individual cases, is that a breach of privacy?

Still, privacy in the digital age is a relative concept. We’ve seen many scandals break over the last few years that prove that privacy today is something of an illusion. How many companies are harvesting our data without our consent? Do we expect them to stop doing so?

Final Notes

If it does nothing else, COVID-19 has proven that our current healthcare systems are inadequate. Not enough people have access to quality healthcare in the first place. An outbreak of this nature can easily overwhelm our existing systems.

On the positive side, this crisis will change the way that we approach healthcare in the future. It’s proven that we’re not as capable of controlling outbreaks as we previously thought. We’ll have to change our reporting systems and develop better initial response plans as a result.

The most exciting change, however, is bound to be how technology develops to meet these challenges. In 20 years, you might well be able to have your annual physical in the comfort of your own home.

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