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Technology & Innovation

How COVID-19 Pandemic Enhanced Care Delivery in Medical Tourism Destinations 

Technology & Innovation

It has been a year of uncertainties and setbacks across all facets of society since the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China. So far, more than 27.6 million people have been infected with the SARS_CoV-2 virus and nearly 900,000 have died from complications arising from the disease. The rapid spread of the infection and the unavailability of effective treatments and vaccines against the infection pushed governments and regions to halt all social and economic activities in a bid to curb further spread of the infection and protect the lives of their citizens. This has upended the economy, led to widespread loss of jobs, and a growing burden of mental health issues that have resulted from the anxieties and uncertainties of the pandemic. 

In response to the gloomy realities facing individuals and businesses, organizations have remodeled their activities to cushion the effects of the global health crisis. In a similar vein, healthcare systems and hospitals - to overcome the challenges of workforce shortage and cancellation of elective procedures - swiftly adopted models and strategies to deliver top of the line care while reining in the transmissibility of the infection. For these healthcare destinations, these changes are here to stay.  

Increased Data Sharing and Interoperability 

For perhaps the first time, healthcare systems are all focused on the same thing: collecting and exchanging information relating to the coronavirus pandemic with split-second timing. The increased need for information sharing during the health crisis has prompted healthcare destinations to build models and platforms that disseminate information to patients, health buyers, and other stakeholders with breakneck speed.

A case in point is the John Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard, which has grown from about 200 million visits in January to billions of visits every day. The dashboard provides up-to-date information about the COVID-19 trajectory, as well as the case counts, death tolls, and risk status of various countries and destinations. 

Another example is the national portal for digital exchange that allows major hospitals and health institutions in the Netherlands to share COVID-19 patient information with one another. Using the portal, Dutch hospitals can transfer patient data seamlessly or transfer critical patients from one hospital to another to optimize healthcare resources and ease care delivery. Patient summaries, radiology images, blood tests are made immediately available to the receiving hospital, provided the original hospital and patient have given explicit consent. 

Furthermore, patients have become more receptive to sharing their health data with various healthcare stakeholders including payers and other healthcare providers. A recent survey by Delloite showed an uptick in the number of patients willing to share their data with key healthcare stakeholders during the pandemic: 71 percent of patients are currently willing to share their data with payers while 73 percent are willing to share their health data with other health providers, compared with 65 and 71 percent of patients before the pandemic. 

Many healthcare systems and providers have leveraged this change to improve patient care delivery and increase their destination attractiveness for prospective clients.

Virtual Health and Remote Care Monitoring

Sequel to the prolonged stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and cancellation of elective treatment services, hospitals have took on virtual care to reach clients and prospective clients to ensure patient care continuity. Furthermore, patients who had been discharged from the hospital following COVID-19  treatment had the rest of their care almost exclusively done via telemedicine platforms.

According to the Future Health Index 2019 Report, telehealth was still being reluctantly incorporated into healthcare just prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The report noted that nearly 39 percent of healthcare professionals say telehealth was not a part of their practice. However, all of that changed literally overnight.

Likewise, patients preferred traditional hospital visits to telehealth consultations until the pandemic hit. A 2019 survey showed that only 8% of patients sought care via telehealth platforms, but as of April 2020, the number had risen to more than 50 percent - and it may keep soaring higher in the coming years 

Telemedicine swiftly moved from a “nice option” to a necessity and will likely become an integral part of healthcare delivery going forward. Mayo Clinic, for instance, reported having an 18,000% increase in video visits in one month, with providers consulting with patients from different parts of the world. The institution also said they had sent video devices to high-risk areas such as skilled nursing care facilities to connect providers with domestic patients, bypassing coronavirus restrictions.

In France, telemedicine consultations have exploded from about 40,000 telemedicine consultations in February to more than 601,000 teleconsultations between 1 and 28 March. The French government also relaxed its regulations regarding teleconsultations, completely reimbursing remote consultation for its citizens as against the usual 70% reimbursement. 

Going forward, telehealth can be harnessed to unify healthcare systems and consolidate patient care into a single virtual network similar to what is being done in the Netherlands. 

Healthcare providers also leveraged telemedicine to ensure safety and optimize limited protective resources. In Alexandria Hospital, Singapore, telepresence robots are deployed in isolation wards to deliver medications and provide an interface for doctors and nurses to communicate, limiting patient contact.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic stretched healthcare beyond its limits and has significantly shrunken revenue for healthcare institutions, it has stirred new patient care models and approaches that improve healthcare delivery while keeping providers and patients safe. This tipping point in healthcare requires the collaboration of all key healthcare stakeholders to drive these changes to optimize healthcare delivery in the new normal.

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