i3 | January 04, 2021

COVID Crisis is Transforming Health Care

Jim Harris

The COVID crisis is turbo charging the adoption of telemedicine and transforming health care. At the end of 2018, digital health was a $3 billion industry in the U.S. and grew in 2020 to $250 billion, according to McKinsey & Company. The COVID pandemic is driving almost 100X growth.

Digital health services were used by 11% of U.S. patients in 2019 and during the pandemic, that surged to 46% in 2020. The adoption of telemedicine shifted into hyper-drive, with U.S. virtual health care interactions on pace to top a billion in 2020, according to Forrester Research.

UK’s Babylon Health

Babylon Health, located in the UK, allows patients to connect with a doctor via video conferencing and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to prompt the doctor on which questions to ask. With each answer, the system re-calculates the probability of what the patient’s medical problem could be. The AI also monitors the facial reaction of each patient — alerting the doctor to changes. The system, for example might warn, “The patient looks concerned,” to which the doctor might say “You look worried” and the patient might reply, “Well it sounds pretty serious.” The doctor might then say, “Well if it’s condition X, then it can be easily treated with antibiotics.”

AI is in its infancy and, as it continues to exponentially improve with enhanced computing power and algorithms, this will further drive the adoption of telehealth. Babylon is valued at $2 billion — not bad for a start up founded in 2013.

It Is What We Access

Mental health is the most under reported crisis of the pandemic and is a major driver behind sustained virtual care engagement.

Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, revealed that a staggering 36% of the company’s 50,000 employees are experiencing mental health challenges during the pandemic — and that’s in a company that’s been growing during the crisis. What then are the rates of mental health issues for those who face job loss, financial difficulties, and health care worries?

A staggering 31% of all virtual health care visits are for mental health. The pandemic is isolating. Many people with non-COVID medical problems are not seeking health care because they fear going to health care facilities. Many suffer in silence but could benefit from remote assistance.

Technology Enabling Transformation

Some smartphones now have 108 megapixels (MP) cameras and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor supports up to 200MP image sensors. With such high-resolution photography, a picture of an eye can be analyzed using AI to determine the gender of the individual, whether they are a smoker or their risk of heart disease to enable remote diagnosis via smartphones.

We are seeing the medicalization of the smartphone. A University of Cambridge app can listen to a patient’s coughing to predict whether they have COVID. Wearables too are changing health care. Apple’s Series 4 watch incorporates an ECG function so that a patient’s heart rate and rhythm can be monitored, setting off an alarm when abnormalities that could lead to a heart attack are detected.

Breaking Barriers

The COVID crisis is breaking down the barriers that have slowed telehealth adoption. U.S. health care spending is more than $3.6 trillion representing 18% of U.S. GDP. The COVID crisis is forcing innovation enabling better health care outcomes at lower cost by eliminating waste and inefficiency. Studies peg health care system waste and inefficiency at $760 billion to $935 billion a year. So out of this terrible COVID crisis is coming a benefit. As the saying goes, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Jim Harris is the author of the Blindsided which focuses on disruptive innovation. Follow him @JimHarris or email jim@jimharris.com

A range of sessions will cover the latest advances in digital health at CES 2021.

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