Considering how much our post-pandemic lives may change, going to the doctor is right near the top. Digital commerce was already well down the path of consumer adoption when COVID-19 hit, but a medical checkup had changed little in decades. Until 2020.
Alternative care—the catchall term for primary care and specialty care away from the hospital or doctor’s office, leveraging technology solutions—has been thrust into the spotlight. Innovators, health professionals, policymakers, and investors now see a host of opportunities to improve the quality and reach of care, reduce the cost, and build value for future investments. And many health consumers now do, too.
If we were to close our eyes and imagine what the health-care delivery method would look like in 20 years, what would we see? Would we imagine a world in which we essentially leverage the same digital and technology solutions we use today? Undoubtedly, yes. Would we expect smart devices on our wrists that, as many do now, predict and diagnose health conditions? Again, yes.
The lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic, paired with accelerating consumer adoption of healthtech, will put the necessary pressure on the existing health delivery systems to change.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, the delivery of care hadn’t changed a great deal since our grandparents’ generation. While many of us might email our doctor, call the advice nurse, or seek out mental health tips from a website, we tend to still end up trudging to a physical office. For nearly a year, it was rare to access care in a physical location. How fast will the landscape change now? That depends on many factors. Here’s how I see it evolving.
One-Click Health Connections
Few online activities have seen such mass adoption so quickly. At the same time that health became a daily fixation for many, we were increasing our one-click consumer behavior, ordering Burmese take-out, buying industrial rolls of toilet paper, binge watching Netflix. We even got comfortable one-clicking for school and work. So, why not check in with your doctor online? Arguably, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of alternative care the equivalent of more than half a decade within a single year.
Even before the pandemic, investors had confidence in the subsector. Alternative care was the leading healthtech subsector in terms of US and European venture investment before 2020, according to a Silicon Valley Bank analysis. Venture dollars flowing into alternative care between 2018 and 2020 reached $12.2 billion, and nearly half of the total arrived last year.
Still, pre-digital age insurance reimbursement policies, geographic practice restrictions, lack of price transparency making savings hard to prove, and political stalemate had made progress slow.
The New Caregivers
What’s next? Changing consumer demand is leading to a new genre of health-care providers. Health innovation companies are no longer solely acting as the communication conduit to traditional providers but also providing access to their own medical professionals, combined with technology solutions, to provide more targeted care. Health consumers are responding to ease-of-access, leading to better outcomes. Healthtech companies that, for example, are treating chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and focused on mental health and well-being are becoming the medical doorway to the consumer/patient.
Alternative care startups based on preventive health are also booming. It’s common for employers to now offer interactive and personalized wellness programs as an additional perk alongside traditional health insurance, and often it’s because employees are asking for them.
Tearing Down Barriers
While there has been progress in tearing down barriers to adopting alternative care in the past year, complexities still abound. The massive US health-care system, given its enormous number of stakeholders, has long proven slow to change. What needs to change: Virtual-visit reimbursements should be comparable to in-person visits, health providers should not face geographic practice restrictions, and service providers should be ready to meet the growing consumer demand to be treated outside the hospital/doctor’s office (or in a hybrid fashion).
After years of much debate and dialogue over how to truly innovate health-care delivery, I believe the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic, paired with accelerating consumer adoption of healthtech, will put the necessary pressure on the existing health delivery systems to change. The future is ripe for positive disruption.