During the COVID-19 pandemic, terrible things happened across the world. But as Winston Churchill said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”, the COVID-19 meant a considerable boost for virtual care solutions. Many countries, for the first time, reimbursements allowed for consultations where the physician had no physical contact with the patient. In addition, due to the lack of capacity in hospitals, remote monitoring for patients became a necessity. Although the pandemic is not over yet, with vaccination levels below 30% in Africa and Asia, the question arises: “Are we going to keep our new habits in healthcare or do we return to our old habits?”
Shopping versus healthcare
A massively implemented concept that during the pandemic was working from home (WFH). By WFH, many companies could remain in business while safeguarding their employees from the COVID-19 virus. But working from home is not a 100% solution for every organisation. For some companies, it works very well. Especially in software development, several companies showed that a 100% WFH company could be successful. While for other companies, human interaction is at the core of their business model.
Is healthcare one of those industries? At first, healthcare seems to be an industry that depends on human interaction. It’s about patient centricity these days. Isn’t it? Of course, there are elements of healthcare that we cannot do at home. Surgery is one of the most obvious ones. But healthcare is more than just surgery.
Healthcare is about maintaining and improving the health of the total population. Many actions can be taken to achieve this goal without requiring a hospital or a GP cabinet. Even then! About two decades ago, many of us would have said that shopping online for clothes and shoes was impossible. We needed a store to fit before buying. Why would healthcare be different? Like shopping for clothes and shoes, healthcare will become partially virtual or online or remote.
The challenge: Kodak or not?
What lessons can we learn for the e-commerce evolution in the last two decades? A first lesson is that no matter how small you are when you start, you can dominate an industry over time when you think big. We are still at the point where a single physician with a vision can make a difference. But the window of opportunity is closing fast as more prominent players enter the market. When companies like Amazon, Google, and Walmart focus on healthcare, we need to keep paying attention. Although I’m not saying that prominent players from other industries have no concern about improving the population, companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google primarily create value for shareholders. This situation creates a conflict of interest when entering public health.
A second lesson we have learned from e-commerce is the first-mover advantage. Organisations entering the virtual care market soon who apply the fail-fast principle will gain a competitive advantage over the followers in the market. Unfortunately, many healthcare organisations hesitate to enter the virtual care market. That’s a missed opportunity. Some healthcare providers are doing exactly what Kodak did when the digital camera came on the market. Why should you adopt a new technology when the traditional way of working pays more? It’s not an easy question.
Nevertheless, the recent past has taught us that the new technology wins: Kodak vs digital cameras, VHS/DVD rentals vs Netflix, buying records vs Spotify. Don’t get me wrong. There still is a market for analogue photos. Vinyl records are reviving, and I’m a big fan of “real” books. But, do the healthcare providers of today want to improve the health of the population of tomorrow? Or do they want to serve a niche market in healthcare?
Virtual care as part of the solution
Healthcare providers have multiple challenges ahead. How do they deal with all the postponed treatments from the last eighteen months? How do they make healthcare more sustainable and affordable? Virtual care is not part of the problem but part of the solution. Embracing virtual care might help to overcome the other challenges faster.