Healthcare Technology Featured Article

November 09, 2021

Digital Healthcare Ecosystems: Evolving Traditional Healthcare for the Post-Pandemic Era




The healthcare system has always been change-driven, but its pace has increased greatly in recent years. With patient expectations growing to access their medical data easily, refill prescriptions, book appointments, and contact medical digitally, the demand is to equip the healthcare market with new capabilities.

With a change in these industry dynamics, and with the current prevalence of COVID-19, virtual visits jumped from 19% from early 2020 to 28% by mid-2020 as shared by Deloitte Insights. At the same time, the survey also indicates that a large number of patients still want the benefits of in-person healthcare services.

However, the pandemic has also emphasized the need for traditional healthcare to evolve and accommodate factors like social distancing, which is now the new norm.

As a result, all healthcare sectors are now trying to implement ways on providing patients with effective healthcare requiring minimal or no contact.

The American Medical Association reports that services like telemedicine had not been used extensively prior to the COVID-19 outbreak but has seen a surge since then. In March 2020, the US government expanded Medicare telehealth coverage to facilitate additional services within the program without people leaving their homes.

This change is perhaps witnessed best by the evolution of digital healthcare ecosystems in the current health industry. The system involves three key players of patients, care providers, and payers to collaborate to improve the quality of care being given and keeping healthcare costs low.

Principles of digital healthcare

Improving patient experience is at the core of all digital healthcare ecosystems. Patients now expect personalized solutions to their health concerns as opposed to healthcare that is provider centric.

This transition requires an infrastructure to support the shift from an organization-based model to a patient-based one using digital platforms.

This approach tackles healthcare by focusing on prevention instead of only treatment. It ousts the current practice where treatment is only provided after the patient gets ill but gives patients more freedom to self-manage their health by regular monitoring of their symptoms.

Improved engagement

Any technology incorporated into the ecosystem is geared toward on-demand healthcare. Patients no longer have to wait in queues to see their doctor but enables medical staff to collaborate with patients to book appointments online and have virtual consultations.

For the medical professional, the system now allows them to keep track of the patients’ treatment, progress, and even medical emergencies via an online platform.

This exchange of information through digital means has improved the interaction between patients and doctors. Caregivers can now collaborate with patients and insurers to propose personalized medical solutions.

According to McKinsey, consumer adoption of telehealth services jumped from 11% in 2019 to a massive 76% showing interest in using telehealth in 2020.

Greater access

Another successful aspect of digitizing healthcare is increased access to treatment. So far, patients hardly had any control regarding their health decisions and had to completely rely on the doctor’s prescribed treatment.

However, with a digital healthcare ecosystem in place, patients get to avail customized assistance without the need to hurry to the hospital in an emergency. Instead, access is just a click away with automation reducing the patient’s reliance on caregivers.  

Digital access points such as messaging devices and portals provide patients with quick, customized access to services.

This feature also makes healthcare available remotely. In places where services may not be available adequately, patients would have to travel to bigger cities to get help. But with the infusion of technology, this problem is solved and telehealth apps permit everyone to connect with healthcare providers located distantly.

In fact, telehealth becomes even more meaningful as it is available beyond regular office hours. Telehealth platforms that have taken off during the pandemic include services like Doxy.me, eVisit.com, SimpleVisit, and VSee to name a few, with some offering a free trial period while others work with a la carte pricing.

Improved Care Efficiency

The efficiency of treatment has also seen an upswing in making patient care clearer, more transparent, and dependable. With practices like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) becoming more mainstream in the healthcare software development while the role of technology has assisted healthcare delivery significantly.

  • VR and AR, for instance, are technologies with multiple applications in healthcare settings such as patient education, surgical training, and hospital management. The growth potential with these is immense as Statista.com shows the North American Virtual and Augmented Reality industry to be valued at $477 million in 2018. This is predicted to go up to a whopping $4.64 billion by 2025.

VR, for instance, is using simulation to become more aware of living with certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s, or  collect data for dementia research. It has also seen some work in vision impairment where it has been used to detect visual impairments, oversee recovery and assists with rehabilitating ocular deficits. Another use is to help children on the autism spectrum by using VR to teach them communication and social skills.

AI powered technology is being used in healthcare for providing more accurate diagnosis by using algorithms and reducing the margin of errors. It also assists in checking symptoms by using a chatbot that listens to symptoms followed by presenting possible causes, options and next steps for the patient. It has even been used as assistive technology for developing new medicines by mapping diseases to help with drug design and development.

  • ML, a subset of AI, is also used in similar capacities.

The providers in this equation can access real time data to ensure delivering the services. For instance, where doctor prescribe medication and treatments, pharmacies can get those details in real time to respond quickly.   

These digital healthcare solutions significantly reduce the time spent on administrative tasks with a greater focus on delivering care. By automating administrative tasks like managing paperwork and maintaining records it takes the load off of medical staff to focus on other tasks.

The implementation of EHRs or electronic health records which are a digital version of a patient’s medical history are another real-time feature that instantly make information available to all authorized parties. Access to this information automates and streamlines the workflow for providers.

Data management

Data stored via cloud-based systems makes the job easier for all healthcare providers. With every new patient, there is new information to record and update which, as the data grows, becomes challenging to manage.

Cloud-based systems automate this information and categorize it in divisions like registrations, treatment plans, prescriptions, diagnoses, lab tests and so on.

For individuals, one small way to monitor everyday data is using apps and wearables that measure vital signs for moment to moment input. Some of this is designed for disease prevention and health maintenance such as monitoring daily physical activity or weight control.

Most users are already very familiar with wearables like Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Motiv Ring that track different aspects of health. But the technology doesn’t stop there. With more options like GymWatch entering the wearable market, people can also get custom workouts created along with feedback on how to perform exercises correctly to avoid injury.

Others like KardiaMobile caters to special aspects of health like heart activity to give information access to both patients and professionals to monitor cardiovascular activity.

Take away

The Deloitte 2020 Survey of US Healthcare Consumers shows that an increasing number of consumers are employing technology to monitor their health and feel comfortable sharing their data amid the pandemic. This number has only increased with patients becoming more engaged in overseeing their health.

With the ability to co-design their treatment plan, patients and doctors have instant access to all data via any type of connected device. Service providers are available 24/7 permitting patients to transition smoothly from a physical setup to a digital one and current trends indicate that growing digital healthcare ecosystems will eventually lower the cost of healthcare.

Only demographics with non-digital patients will have a hard time for it can be challenging to replicate the satisfaction one gets from human interaction with a digital setup.

But the pandemic has changed much of that out of compulsion and healthcare seems well on a path to a digital future.









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