In the wake of the pandemic, the healthcare and life sciences sector faced an overnight need for operational change. Companies were forced to grapple with new challenges that were brought alongside the virus whilst still fulfilling the everyday commitments of their role. Now we should be looking to futureproof our healthcare systems through further refinement and regulation of digital.
A History of Tentative Innovation
In an industry as scrutinised, regulated and monitored as life sciences, adoption of new processes or technologies on a wide scale can be frustratingly slow compared to other industries. When we attended Digital Pharma Advances just a month before the pandemic hit last year, a live survey revealed only 1 in 5 attendees were optimistic about their organisation’s ability to deliver a strategy for digital. The reality is that every new program, strategy, and piece of technology has to be meticulously reviewed before being introduced to patients or healthcare professionals (HCPs).
Although they were well underway, initiatives around telehealth, healthcare analytics and digital patient engagement were considered a bit of a nice to have prior to the pandemic. The coronavirus was a catalyst that accelerated the need for such tools and gave the sector a pressing need to get these systems in front of patients and HCPs, in order to give patients an alternative way access to information during lockdown, to alleviate the demand put on frontline health workers, and to solve a multitude of other issues highlighted by the pandemic.
The New Normal of Digital Health
The digital transformation of healthcare has been accelerated rapidly in the last year, with innovations reflecting similar uses of technology in other industries and helping patients access care in new ways, taking pressure from healthcare workers. Interestingly, many of the most successful innovations have come from use of existing tools; the use of email, video conferencing, webchats and online engagement platforms are nothing new, and have been supporting other service sectors for years, but new uses within the last year have cemented their necessity in a healthcare setting and the industry is unlikely to fully return to the way things were.
As well as alleviating pressure on frontline workers, the adoption of digital is creating a better patient experience. Prior to the pandemic, patients needing to access care may have needed to travel to see their GP or a physician and be required to wait in a waiting room. In being offered a telehealth appointment this wait time is cut, and access to the same level of care is possible from the comfort of their own home.
In an age where we lean on digital conveniences for so many aspects of our lives; video conferencing to collaborate at work, smart devices to gather information or order our groceries, online platforms for managing our bills – we now expect that our healthcare experiences will be equally as convenient and effective.
Futureproofing Digital Infrastructure
In order to contend with the ever-changing situation, decisions on the adoption and distribution of digital technologies were made at a dramatically increased pace during the pandemic. Advances such as telehealth had to scale rapidly last year, which leaves us on a bit of a shaky foundation that we need to ensure is structurally sound before any more is built upon it.
These experimental offerings now need analysis, review and further regulations in order to be scaled further. Long-term effectiveness must be assessed, and each new platform and process analysed for thoughtfulness and put forth for political approval. The cybersecurity element also has to be considered; the further we delve into adoption of digital, the more channels are open to cyberattack, so opportunities to create slick and automated patient experiences have to be approached tactfully given the sensitivity of the data involved.
The digital acceleration we’ve gone through in the last year has big implications for the life science industry. Now, it’s up to the industry players and healthcare regulators to ensure the progress made so far provides a solid trajectory that opens the door to further innovation, better care and ease of access.