There is no doubt that COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on our healthcare systems and our resources supporting them. Many countries have frozen projects and shifted funding towards field hospitals and medical testing facilities in the cities, on the borders, and other critical locations. While we saw governments implementing different precautionary measures such as partial or total curfews and mass sanitization programs, many of these policies have now been eased up or abandoned completely in an attempt to deter the effect of a lock-down, both socially and economically. All this means that the pressure on the healthcare industry continues to mount with the looming threat of repeated waves or current and new viruses even with the recent news around the COVID vaccine.

A lot of us might have gone through at least one telemedicine experience. And if you are like me, you started wondering if you would ever go back to face to face routine consultations in the future. Online medical consultations – at least routine ones – can be significantly more efficient by saving both the patient and the healthcare professional’s time and ensuring less exposure to health risks for both.

As part of the Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program between the UAE Government and Cisco, we have been engaged in several Proof of Concepts in various industries including healthcare. Before COVID-19, we were engaged in a particular use case with Medcare, a major healthcare provider in the UAE to test innovative functionality to provide an integrated remote healthcare experience. The initial plan was to launch the pilot within a period of six weeks. In response to the pandemic and the instated curfew in the UAE, our teams turned around the concept in six days allowing Medcare to cater to patients all over the UAE remotely using our collaboration and teleconferencing tools. 100 doctors are using this successful platform catering to over 8,000 patients so far.

The impact on wider adjacent industries.

Of all the ways that technology has improved our lives, we could argue that none are as important as its impact on the healthcare industry and journey. We have recently witnessed an acceleration of these technological advancements highlighted primarily in remote healthcare experiences.

For patients, such experiences are enabling them to be more involved in the management of their own medical conditions. Indications of this trend can be seen through the increase in healthcare mobile apps and the use of more and more wearables that include their own health monitoring applications.

These trends will have implications for providers in adjacent industries; from medical facility management, technology systems, and most notably the healthcare insurance companies. These companies are now adopting new models for verifying consultations and medical information, catering to a different interaction between the patient and the medical staff, and providing coverage under different operating models and cost structures.

The potential of the healthcare industry is undoubtedly huge. Technology, boosted by the sense of urgency and openness to transformation, is now offering the opportunity to execute on aspirations of all stakeholders in the healthcare industry.

Patients will be motivated by efficiency, convenience, and active involvement; employers will seek fewer work disruptions, employees’ wellbeing, and reduced costs of healthcare. Providers, on another hand, will gain productivity, minimize exposure and reduce facilities cost, while health insurance players will increase visibility and traceability, competitiveness and in the near future possibly extend their scope to adjacent healthcare services related to fitness or diet for example.

These accelerated changes in the healthcare industry will also result in far less transactional healthcare services and far more perpetual healthcare provisioning. The delivery will be focused on improving and constantly managing outcomes, through continuous monitoring, steering, and interactions, bringing us closer to a more continuous ‘healthcare as a service’ model.

Amid increased concerns on medical information privacy and security, this value-added service might come at a price but trends in other industries suggest that healthcare providers will be able to balance between the increased efficiency and value of their services from one end and the security and privacy of the patients on the other. As medical records become more detailed and globally mobile, technology will enable sophisticated security measures defending healthcare, the most targeted sector, against cybersecurity threats and exploitation.

The gained visibility, seamlessness, involvement and efficiency will delivery with time on the promise of incentivizing people on their own health metrics and wellbeing. These incentives are to reflect on the costs and benefits of health and life insurance as an example.

The globalization of the healthcare industry.

Another very interesting aspect of this transformation will be related to the decoupling of the location from many of our routine healthcare interactions. Consultation is now practically open to be from anywhere in the world. Under such circumstances, the question arises, What does national medical regulation really mean? With telemedicine technologies likes Cisco Webex and others making sure patients are connected to any healthcare provider around the world, the emergence of global medical regulations and jurisdictions are very likely, opening the door to a class of global healthcare providers.

While we witness governments close borders and countries go into repeated lockdowns, the healthcare industry will witness even more collaboration across borders with patient cases reaching out to skilled and talented healthcare providers across the globe. In time, medical records will follow the same path with the emergence of global medical records, which will require a more pragmatic policy around medical data protection and jurisdiction.

Such a global jurisdiction for medical records can be implemented through technology and digital transformation. It might even be part of the solution enhancing global authority and governance around world health, especially considering the clear shortcomings of the existing global policies and governance.

It will also be very interesting to see a new breed of healthcare providers emerging from this global pandemic. Whether they’re new companies, existing ones working currently in technology or other fields, or even current healthcare providers and pharmaceuticals actually creating the disruption themselves is yet to be seen. No matter what scenarios emerge, the healthcare industry will not look the same.

Global healthcare will need to establish technological platforms allowing for more efficient governance closer to those that exist in financial services, transportation, climate, security, and others. Advanced technological platforms supported secure and intelligent intent-based infrastructures, smart and intuitive collaboration technologies, and applications enabled by blockchain application, artificial intelligence, and advanced analytics. This is especially true as we get more disillusioned with time about COVID-19 being a one-off virus spreading in a specific number of waves, and more of an indication of a trend of emerging viruses and other global health issues. An integrated technology platform will allow the healthcare industry to respond to a host of emerging health issues and others that might relate to security, climate, and the economy.