The way we deliver and receive healthcare is fast changing in the face of the global pandemic and other pressures such as changing demographics, rising affluence, and increasing demands being placed on healthcare systems worldwide. In a survey of company executives across industries by McKinsey & Company in April 2020, there was an almost 30-percent increase in focus on innovation by pharmaceuticals and medical supplies companies in a time when all other industries showed a decline in focus on innovation compared to before the pandemic.

Looking beyond the impacts of the past year’s events, three major trends are gaining a foothold in the healthcare landscape and will change the shape of healthcare in future, presenting opportunities for small to midsize businesses in the sector to achieve big ambitions with innovative solutions.


Virtual care

Telehealth is becoming more widely accepted as an effective means of delivering care, offering benefits such as better access and shorter wait times. While it was the global pandemic that sparked the widespread need for virtual care, this trend could offer a long-term solution for both healthcare providers and patients.

In response to the pandemic, Body Logic Physiotherapy, Joondalup, one of Cisco’s customers in Australia, launched a telehealth service where its therapists could connect with patients via video calls to deliver rehabilitation treatment to manage their musculoskeletal pain in the safety of their homes. What started as a crisis response is now an option that Body Logic Physiotherapy, Joondalup can always rely on should their operation be disrupted for any reason, making them more resilient as a business, which is crucial as the world continues to experience new waves of COVID-19 infection.

Virtual care has also opened doors for healthcare providers to expand their services and revenue stream. While in the past, location might be an important factor in selecting a healthcare provider, virtual health breaks down geographical barriers and allows providers to reach a wider network of patients and customers. Providers like Body Logic Physiotherapy, Joondalup can now offer their services to patients in other cities or even countries, or to those who might have difficulty receiving treatments in person.


IoT and wearables

Wearable devices are playing an increasingly important role in healthcare as they enable the collection of information that can help care providers make diagnoses and optimize treatments for the best outcomes. The Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables enable remote health monitoring, allowing doctors to record activities such as sleep cycles and heart rhythms on an outpatient basis. In inpatient settings, they can be used to monitor falls and track movements in bed to prevent pressure sores from developing, among other applications.

When a person suffers a stroke, timely treatment can make a world of difference for their lives. Cisco partnered with NTT to develop the Mobile Stroke Unit for Sriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand to overcome the challenges of treating stroke patients promptly in inaccessible locations while navigating heavy city traffic. Ambulances were equipped with cutting-edge technology to diagnose and treat stroke patients en route. Medical imaging and remote sharing capabilities through IoT as well as live audio and video conferencing using Cisco Webex enable emergency teams to connect with doctors at the hospital, who make a diagnosis and guide paramedics to start treatment even before the patient arrives at the hospital, thereby enhancing their chances of survival and recovery.


Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Healthcare is a data-heavy business, with every patient generating vast amounts of information that can be mined for valuable insights to improve the planning and delivery of patient care. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning enable the processing and analysis of huge data sets to produce clinical insights such as calculating a patient’s risk for a health condition, predicting disease outbreaks, and modelling progression for diseases such as cancer.

In some clinical environments, AI has helped improve diagnostic accuracy, such as distinguishing between normal body tissues and cancerous tumours, as well as spotting eye diseases on retinal scans. When combined with virtual care and IoT, AI offers even more opportunities for healthcare and wellness companies. A simple smartphone app can allow users to better understand their health status and help them make lifestyle changes or point them in the right direction for medical care.


The possibilities are endless, but proper implementation is key

As we can see, with the right technology and a bit of innovation, there is a great opportunity for small businesses, despite their limited manpower and resources to spearhead big, innovative ideas that can create significant impact for people’s health and well-being.

However, the sensitivity of medical data and health records demands a high degree of security, especially when they are stored and transferred for remote access in a virtual care setting. Compliance with cybersecurity and privacy regulations is crucial to gain both providers’ and patients’ trust. And as IoT becomes more deeply embedded in healthcare, consistent and effective communication between numerous devices is one of the biggest challenges faced by healthcare providers. Solutions that enable secure and stable communication between patient devices and hospital systems will be vital to ensuring the success of digital health initiatives.

As companies explore the many opportunities that technology has to offer, they must bear in mind that in an industry where people’s lives and well-being are at stake, reliable, efficient and secure solutions are a must to ensure that top quality care is delivered at all times.