While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to be fully realized, there is no denying that it has permanently transformed the healthcare system and the way doctors, pharmacies and hospitals do business. As we slowly creep into a post-pandemic world, how we treat patients, deliver medications and administer healthcare will be forever changed. At Mythos Group, we look at these times of change and industry-wide upheavals as the perfect opportunities for transformation.
COVID-19 Prompted A Surge In Telehealth
At the onset of the pandemic, we saw a surge in telehealth usage to minimize COVID-19 transmission. Since this initial surge, utilization of telehealth services has stabilized at a level 38 times higher than before the pandemic, and investment in both virtual care and telehealth has skyrocketed (reaching 3 times the level of venture capitalist investment in 2020 than it had in 2017), allowing for ample funding for future innovation.
This increased use of telehealth was accompanied by improved attitudes (from both provider and consumer) toward the technology. While experts say the telehealth increase was born out of necessity, there’s no denying that it was bolstered by increased consumer willingness to use telehealth, increased provider willingness to provide telehealth services and loosening of regulatory policies that allowed for greater access and reimbursement for telehealth services.
During a time when quarantine was the norm, protective masks were mandated and vaccines were nonexistent, telehealth became a lifesaver (both literally and figuratively). It bridged the gaps in our previous healthcare system, especially in the fields of psychiatry and substance use treatment, which had the highest uptake of telehealth services with a penetration of 50 percent and 30 percent respectively.
But will telehealth remain a central aspect of our future healthcare systems? We believe the answer is yes, and we are advising our healthcare clients to invest heavily in new technologies that will make the delivery of telehealth services more efficient. We believe the continued proliferation of digital health services will be sustained by patient demand and investments as well as expedited by regulatory and policy changes at the state and federal levels.
The Pandemic’s Impact On The Pharmaceutical Industry
Of course, the telehealth market wasn’t the only area of healthcare to be significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, COVID-19 strained the healthcare supply chain and disrupted the delivery of medicine and other healthcare products (particularly to low- and middle-income nations).
As a result of these challenges, we’ve found there to be opportunities to improve the delivery of drugs and cut costs for pharmacies and patients alike. For example, the ability to have an Rx delivered to your door not only saved lives during the pandemic, but it also benefited consumers by providing better access and delivery across a wide range of demographics.
While younger generations usually drive technology adoption, what we’re seeing in the pharmaceutical sector is that baby boomers are the ones who are driving the e-pharmacy revolution. According to an article on the Pharmacy Podcast Network that quotes a 2020 AARP report, Americans who are ages 50 and older are adopting consumer technology at about the same rates as Americans in the age range of 18 to 49.
A 2021 McKinsey & Company article supports the idea that the future of retail pharmacy is in the home. Driven by those seeking convenience and those with chronic conditions, the $460 billion retail pharmacy sector is increasingly leaning on ecommerce. With only 5 to 10 percent of ecommerce penetration in the pharmacy industry, there is a huge opportunity for prolific growth in the coming years.
The Implications Of COVID-19 For Healthcare Administrators
Healthcare administrators have always been essential to the success of a healthcare facility and/or company. These educated and trained individuals lead clinical and business professionals, manage human resources, handle financial operations and spearhead marketing initiatives. However, they were often the ones left to fix unprecedented problems in real time as they occurred during the pandemic. This overwhelming burden on healthcare administrators exposed flaws in healthcare operations, staffing and resource allocation.
One of the biggest areas of opportunity in this industry comes from technology, which is no surprise to those of us who are closely following the digitization and digitalization of other industries. In addition to telehealth visits, healthcare facilities also implemented software solutions to expedite information to and from their patients, doctors, labs and public health entities.
Healthcare administrators will increasingly utilize these types of electronic health records (EHRs) and software to improve the interoperability of data. The ability for computer systems to exchange and make use of data in real time is going to be indispensable going forward. To do this, the data must be standardized through Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR).
Pronounced “fire,” FHIR is standard for describing data formats and an application programming interface (API) that enables EHRs to be exchanged. The FHIR standard was created by Health Level Seven International (HL7), a not-for-profit ANSI-accredited standards developing organization dedicated to providing a framework for exchanging, integrating, sharing and retrieving EHRs.
In the wake of COVID-19, healthcare facilities should be focusing on these integrations in order to not only transform the roles of healthcare administrators, but to improve operations and manage costs. Major medical software companies such as Epic and Oracle Cerner are using the HL7 standard for better interoperability. This software solution alone allows healthcare administrators to free up resources in order to better align staffing positions with healthcare needs.
Have We Reached The New Normal?
There is a lot of speculation as to whether we have reached the new post-pandemic normal. While we collectively hope that this is the case, it is better to remain cautiously optimistic. We have witnessed COVID-19 change constantly, and several prominent variants have emerged since the start of the virus. And by all accounts, the virus is still evolving rapidly. For example, the BA.2 variant surpassed the original Omicron strain in March 2022, and subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are currently estimated to compose 13 percent of recent new cases.
Yale Medicine reported that “new variants are an expected part of the evolution of viruses, monitoring each one that surfaces is essential in ensuring we – in the U.S. and globally – are prepared.” It is true that COVID-19 taught us to prepare for the unexpected. For that reason, healthcare officials and administrators must move forward with the understanding that the unexpected is to be expected and that the healthcare system must take a proactive rather than reactive stance.