Healthcare in the era of pandemic: Why 2020 was an important year of the decade

New Delhi: Covid-19 has triggered abrupt changes across the healthcare industry. There has been an alarming concern that the industry needs to reimagine healthcare in totality. Reversing the technological gap, there has been a significant shift in consumer behaviour towards healthcare in the new normal. We have seen several positive impacts from COVID-19 as we begin to discover new ways to create paths to experience better health.  If I have to recap the year gone by, here is my summarization of the year 2020 for the industry at large and the society. 

Healthcare trends that have accelerated 2020

  • Reduction in Communicable Diseases: Before the pandemic, NCDs were already the biggest cause of deaths worldwide. It was interesting to note that the incidences communicable diseases have reduced because lots of respiratory precautions taken. With the continuous message of stay at home, for several months, people with diagnosed NCDs are sheltering at home since they were high risk. 
  • Prevention is better than cure: In my view, information distribution about the disease transmission knowledge was spread well and now everyone understands how to prevent transmission. The extensive campaigns led by various state governments to reach out to the masses through various mediums to inform people to use a mask, maintain a distance of six feet and maintain hygiene such as frequently washing of hands. In fact, these measures solve and help to keep many future diseases at bay. 
  • The Doctor is Online: Covid-19 has transformed the way doctors and patients interact. Positive changes in the marketplace from COVID-19 have a rapid transition to expediting the use of telemedicine. With the advancements in digital technology, these trends are accelerating the adoption of telehealth services as providers and patients turn to virtual visits for safety and convenience. TeleHealth is not a new tool but the pandemic has taught all of us about its wider acceptance. While In-person visits will still be the norm for new patient consultations and urgent care, I am confident that telemedicine can work and will continue to be useful for patients. We also have been able to determine that individuals are more tech-savvy and can implement telehealth solutions, both young and old populations. These new opportunities can provide a positive pathway for many who may not be able to visit healthcare centres and have challenges gaining access to treatment. More framework needs to be built to support the systems for patients, but the doors have opened.
  • Home Vaccination: During uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone is still adjusting their lives around the “new normal”, healthcare providers are now offering home services for all the healthcare needs. Availability of home services comes as the biggest blessing to the country where vaccination is provided to you at your home without any fear or uncertainty of contracting the symptoms of the virus. The availability of telehealth along with home vaccination led to mass awareness about primary prevention & tertiary prevention even amongst the remotest corner of the world. COVID-19 has brought point-of-care testing to the forefront, and at-home testing is now a vital option, given the potential to limit exposure and efficiency. 
  • Reduction in Global CO2 emissions: Government policies during the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically altered patterns of energy demand around the world. Many international borders were closed and populations were confined to their homes, which reduced transport and changed consumption patterns. There is greater awareness among everyone now about Climate change – thanks to the pandemic. The economic crisis associated with COVID-19 is markedly different from previous economic crises in that it is more deeply anchored in constrained individual behaviour. At present, it is unclear how long and deep the crisis will be, and how the recovery path will look, and therefore how CO2 emissions will be affected. 

Way Forward – What can be done better 

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) recently released the results from the first phase of the National Family Health Survey (NHFS). This is the fifth such survey and the first phase — for which data was collected in the second half of 2019 — covered 17 states and five Union Territories. The most important takeaway is that between 2015 and 2019, several Indian states have suffered a reversal on several child malnutrition parameters. In other words, instead of improving, several states have either seen child malnutrition increase or improve at a very slow rate.  In my view, with the pandemic around our efforts to combat malnutrition needs to be scaled up. India needs to act now by enhancing its programme effectiveness, primary care along with primary prevention and reach. The situation calls for robust policies and strengthened actions to end hunger in the country. A golden opportunity exists for our healthcare to be improved significantly which has a lot of potentials.

Another area which needs attention is how we will fight mental health issues. The mental health crisis is likely to follow the ongoing healthcare crisis. While the Indian economy has started to recover from the pandemic-induced slowdown and many governments have deployed unprecedented policy measures to support people and businesses, we are yet to see the effects of many of these measures as the pandemic is yet to recede. Along with the government, public-private partnerships will play a pivotal role in creating manufacturing and export-friendly policies to aid the private sector in India to push forward the agenda of employment and economic growth. 

The Healthcare industry has always been an evolving ecosystem, often struggling to change fast enough to keep up with regulatory and patient needs. The pandemic has taught all of us to ensure an increased focus on patient centricity. Digital channels that are centred around the patient can dramatically influence wellness, facilitate the capture of data to improve the efficacy of treatments and feed other applications to monitor and better manage diseases.