The Future of Healthcare is Virtual and Omnipresent

The pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in healthcare, and many of the changes will be here to stay.

August 24, 2021, Gökce Sandal

Healthcare industry was already undergoing profound shifts when the pandemic struck. Interest in personalised healthcare, mental health and holistic wellness regimens had been gaining traction steadily, and the pandemic brought them into even sharper focus. With Covid-19 dramatically accelerating these pre-existing transitions, Futures Platform’s futurists anticipate that many of the pandemic-induced changes to the healthcare and wellness industries will be here to stay post-pandemic.

This article is based on our latest foresight radar, Exit from Covid-19, which features 50+ cross-industry trends impacted by the pandemic.

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The pandemic supercharges the adoption of telemedicine

Before 2020, telemedicine remained relatively stagnant both in terms of consumer adoption and regulations. In the US, for example, doctors only had a few video platforms to choose from for virtual appointments, and health insurance didn’t always cover telemedicine consultations.

In places where doctors offered telemedicine consultations, patients still largely preferred in-person visits out of habit. Then, when the pandemic made telemedicine the safest option for non-urgent treatments, patients around the world turned to virtual consultations overnight. Regulators also followed suit - the US government allowed insurance reimbursement for telemedicine and eased the restrictions, allowing doctors to chat with patients via any video platform.

Telemedicine adoption rates jumped elsewhere, too – the French health system reported 1.2. million virtual consultations in September 2020, compared to 40.000 in February of the same year. Similarly, the Indian telehealth company Practo grew more than tenfold within just 7 months.

As people have now become accustomed to the idea and gotten used to the convenience of connecting with doctors from the comfort of their homes, telemedicine is most likely to stay once the pandemic is over. “Telemedicine will be one of the lasting outcomes to provide more efficient care to patients rather than a temporary solution to the current pandemic crisis,” says Shiori Ota, Foresight Analyst at Futures Platform.

Wider adoption of telemedicine will also lower the threshold for seeking medical help, potentially leading to more frequent, informal check-ins between patients and medical professionals in the future.

According to Futures Platform’s Foresight Analysis Manager Max Stucki, introducing easily accessible telemedicine more comprehensively to our everyday life could be just the beginning. “If the threshold to contact a healthcare practitioner becomes lower thanks to the ease of telemedicine, perhaps the next step would be healthcare technologies that share continuous health data via our mobile devices with our doctors. That way, they could potentially contact us already before we contact them, and before we have any symptoms,” he adds.

 

Health becomes ubiquitous in everyday spaces

Telemedicine fundamentally changes the way we receive health services by bringing healthcare to us regardless of where we are. This shift will also have implications outside the healthcare industry and pave the way for ubiquitous health monitoring.

As health becomes omnipresent in the everyday realm, health-boosting measures in otherwise non-medical spaces may become more and more common. From air purification to health-monitoring spaces and testing facilities, consumers may increasingly expect various health services to be incorporated into homes, workplaces, gyms, airports, malls and virtually any public place.

Such consumerisation of healthcare is already happening across sectors today. For example, more and more hotels across Asia are now blurring the boundaries between hotel spas, medical centres and wellness resorts by adding science-based, on-site medical treatments to their offerings.

Meanwhile, as work-life balance and mental wellbeing become more front-and-centre in people’s minds, some hotels are offering “wellness sabbaticals” and “workcations” for digital nomads, where they can blend work and healthy experiences such as spa treatments, personal coaches and healthy food selections. Similarly, in the real estate sector, investment firm Comuninad Partners offers their residents free access to telemedicine.

 

Healthcare in the Future

A recent McKinsey study reports that 79% of world consumers say that health is important to them, with a significant percentage of them willing to spend more on personal wellness. Considering the increasing interest in health and wellness, the emphasis on physical and mental wellbeing will likely become more and more ever-present in our lives.

Consumers will increasingly demand that their wellbeing is fully addressed throughout the entire customer journey. This will open up novel opportunities to blend health with various products and services in powerful new ways. With conscious consumerism increasingly becoming the norm and consumer attention shifting from products to experiences, wellness may also become the new frontier of luxury and experience industries.

While telemedicine most likely won’t replace in-person doctor visits completely, many cases that would previously require an in-person visit will be resolved via virtual consultations. Moreover, as healthcare shifts from its solution-oriented approach to a more personalised and holistic focus, we will likely see telemedicine applications increasingly focusing on the distinct needs of different communities and historically marginalised populations. “In the post-pandemic era, telehealth will continue to increase access to healthcare especially for rural and lower socioeconomic populations who lack access to in-person visits,” Shiori Ota concludes.

 


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