Saurav Kasera is the Co-Founder of CLIRNET, India’s largest live digital CME and doctor generated medical content platform. He leads the corporate team in forging business-fostering strategies while also heading CLIRNET’s fundraising efforts. Furthermore, he serves as the point of contact when it comes to establishing marketing blueprints and business relationships. Overall, he supervises the fluid functioning of specific departments while keeping a vantage view of the holistic development of the organization.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spurred transformations across businesses worldwide, the healthcare sector has not been left untouched. Initially trending in the United States, a dramatic increase in digital healthcare, or “virtual clinics’ started expanding globally in 2020. Physical distancing guidelines prompted the need for digital healthcare, which was aided further by developments in legislative frameworks in response to reports of emerging variants of the deadly coronavirus.
Understanding Digital Healthcare or “Virtual Clinics’:
“Virtual clinics’ are the online or digital extensions of healthcare facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and dispensaries. Dubbed as a “futuristic” step towards providing accessible intervention to individuals, “virtual clinics’ are gaining immense adoption due to the ease of services and transparency in delivery.
Virtual clinics can also take the form of online consultations, ‘teleconsultation’ or ‘e-consultation’ through specialized personal platforms of medical professionals wherein patients contact, consult and follow up digitally.
Features of Digital Healthcare and Virtual Clinics:
The most basic features, like virtual consultation, care coordination, clinical decision support tools, condition-specific medication, and interoperable technologies, are consolidated in digital healthcare ecosystems. These are delivered through websites,
phones, and apps. While still in their developing stage, digital healthcare and virtual clinics are designed as “solution ecosystems’ featuring highly tailored or personalized individual care.
International Data Corporation (IDC) emphasised this in a 2022 report.
Digital healthcare, strongly fueled by Artificial Intelligence (AI), is the future of healthcare, estimating that by 2023, about two-thirds of patients globally will have accessed digital healthcare in the form of video appointments, in-call consultations, and telemedication.
As several countries shifted from former in-person medical visits towards teleconsultations, IDC identified some driving factors for this change that include: increased patient willingness to use teleconsultation healthcare providers’ willingness to develop virtual medical support regulatory changes in online payments and reimbursements.
Consequently, digital healthcare that offered a bridge to medical care during COVID-19 is increasingly reinventing the industry’s operational model. While developed countries inch faster towards digital healthcare models, the developing countries’ reluctance to utilize the same is built on traditional concerns. However, if not a total digital healthcare facility, many nations are open to accessing hybrid digital/in-person care models.
Nevertheless, virtual clinics are gradually proving to be inevitable in healthcare due to their multiplied access, manifold outcomes, and excellent affordability.
Why Digital Healthcare and Virtual Clinics are the Future of Healthcare
McKinsey & Company studied healthcare innovation practises in the post-COVID-19 era.times and found that approximately $250 billion of healthcare services in the United States are potentially being shifted to advanced digital care or virtually-enabled medical care facilities. Similarly, many healthcare systems in the world have launched incubators to record insights for developing digital healthcare solutions.
The latest studies by healthcare institutions focused on virtual clinics pinpoint that digital healthcare ecosystems give both patients and stakeholders the independence to share confidential personal data in a personalized interaction setting. These in turn enable high-quality access to medical care, convenient consultations, and enhanced privacy in provider-patient interactions. Furthermore, AI automation in digital healthcare can perform
tasks like scheduling doctor’s appointments, handling patient visits, forwarding prescriptions in pharmacies, maintaining patients’ medical records digitally, transcribing clinical notes, and so on. A hybrid model could also work here by entrusting the mentioned tasks to digital automation while the medical professionals can engage in treating the patients face-to-face with undivided attention.
Royal Philips on digital healthcare beyond the pandemic has revealed that for over two-thirds of the world’s healthcare leaders including France, the Netherlands, India and Germany, the top priorities remain improving ‘digitalization of medication’ in the next three years. Led by France, India ranked second in the continued shift of digital healthcare post-Covid-19 with 42% of respondents preferring teleconsultation over in- person visit.
A Deloitte report on digital healthcare during COVID-19 pointed out that virtual health management has the potential to fulfil 4Cs as discussed below:
Continuity—of home, outpatient, and inpatient care setting
Connectivity—of both asynchronous and synchronous modalities
Coordination—of all stakeholders in the cycle including providers to providers; consumers to providers; consumers to pharmaceutical care continuum— starting from well-being to acute to post-acute care.
A research from Royal Philips on the healthcare industry update showed that 14 countries among health leaders are strengthening virtual healthcare facilities in areas like preventive care, long-term care, remote well-being services, video visits, remote monitoring, medication adherence, patient experiences, and virtual second-opinions. The study concluded that by the year 2040, digital healthcare will look significantly different.
Some important figures and stats that prove digital healthcare is the future, are listed below:
The instances of teleconsultation utilization have witnessed 38X higher stability than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Against the initial spike of 32% teleconsultation incidences of existing outpatients in April 2020, the overall increase of 13% to 17% new addition of teleconsultation patients in 2021 has surpassed the estimated two-third investment and funds allocation towards digital healthcare and virtual clinics have skyrocketed as 3X more venture capitalists initiated digital healthcare investments in 2020. A differential uptake has been recorded in teleconsultation depending on care specialty, the highest number of virtual care being requested for psychiatry at 50%. This is closely followed by treatment for substance use at 30%.
The Way Forward for Digital Healthcare:
Digital healthcare ecosystems are still evolving in terms of business models and industry frameworks. To address this, policymakers are consistently assessing the possibilities and challenges of digitally-enabled care. One overarching challenge is the decreasing willingness of patients to pay for teleconsultation convenience as the pandemic ebbs. As physical restrictions are being lifted, patients are now more interested in travelling to the clinics than interacting with digital medical assistants.
Although a persisting problem, healthcare institutions have higher prospects by calibrating digital healthcare programs with an increase in “return on health.”
The future digital healthcare ecosystems can be planned as benefit-generating models for patients, medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies going forward.
Innovative facilities in the digital healthcare industry can be proposed for more informed payment decisions, regulations for guided virtual care, etc. However, these are temporary hurdles and after a careful evaluation of these factors, medical institutions can keep progressing as per the requirements of the industry.
The exponential proliferation of virtual clinics paints a brighter picture. Upcoming virtual care facilities in India, one of the world’s top healthcare leaders, are being launched substantially that range from “urgent care” to longitudinal virtual care, integration of teleconsultation with virtual health solution programs, and various other hybrid models. Further, online courses and programmes that fall into the preventive care dimensions of digital healthcare are surging. These provide specialised counselling on prediabetes, thyroid, etc., and are instrumental in delaying or preventing the onset of many life-threatening diseases. For patients with complex chronic conditions, digital outpatient monitoring enables medical professionals to connect and provide live evaluations.
These not only potentially reduce hospital admissions but also increase patient satisfaction, cost-effectiveness, and treatment adherence. Strongly assisted by AI technologies, digital healthcare capabilities are quickly improving remote imaging that facilitates medical collaboration and timely diagnosis.
While the pandemic brought about this paradigm shift from in-person medical care to digital healthcare, a whole new world of opportunities awaits this change in the operational architecture of medical institutions.