The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people manage their health. It has challenged our medical systems and driven demand for new solutions. However, our data suggests these changes are not new but rather an acceleration of existing trends. Ipsos’ Global Trends Survey 2020 highlighted changing perspectives on health, such as a rise in health consciousness, demand for health self-reliance or alternative therapies, and an increased comfort with data sharing in exchange for personalised products and services.
The last decade saw technological progress, busy lives, and scarce resources – married with the human desire for control and transparency – pushing people to finding new solutions to medical care. COVID-19 accelerated this push for new solutions. The pandemic has been a major stress test on people’s relationship with medicine and healthcare and has demonstrated that technology can help us overcome a number of these pressures. It may impact how we manage our health in more significant ways than we have seen in generations. The Global Trends Survey 2020 shows 77% agree that technology generally makes life better, and lockdowns saw a massive surge in online access to doctors and hospitals, more widespread use of solutions such as online consultations, chatbots, self-testing and remote monitoring. Ipsos’ COVID-19 tracker report saw one in five (20%) of people across 14 countries globally having a doctor’s appointment through video or telephone during May 2020. Although the figure varies considerably by country, a considerable number of people have now experienced receiving medical care this way. One signal of this can be found in the UK, where it was estimated by NHS Digital that HALF of the 102 million GP appointments from March to July were by video or phone call (compared to practices previously having around 95% of their consultations face-to-face
Our expectation is that these changes will be permanent – they build on existing global changes in attitudes and behaviours towards health. Experiences of virtual consultations will differ but patients will now be more familiar with the benefits of saving time, not having to travel and avoiding risk of being exposed to other sick people.
Another example of changing trends is self-testing kits. The desire for greater convenience, time efficiency, and more ownership over one’s health is driving a demand for self-testing in place of at a medical facility. A well-known example, prior to COVID-19, is the pregnancy test kit which claims to be 99% accurate and is well accepted by the general public and doctors alike. More recently, self-testing kits for urinary tract infections (UTIs) such as cystitis, for example, have also become available. Home Testing for COVID-19 has of course exploded in 2020. There remain some concerns among the medical community as to performance of home testing kits and accuracy of testing, but the need for self-testing for coronavirus has made it a necessity and exposed millions to this option. The swab for coronavirus has increased awareness around the opportunity and ease of home testing, and again in future we think millions will be open to this solution as a way of managing their health.
Another technological solution we have seen in action, supporting the recent global crisis, is chatbots. These solutions were already being trialed in healthcare settings as a form of triage, and once again, technology met the needs of the pandemic: remote, fast, smart diagnosis that doesn’t involve human to human contact. This is an efficient way of communicating with large numbers of people when traditional channels are stretched. The NHS WhatsApp COVID-19 chatbot provides information on topics such as coronavirus prevention and symptoms, the latest number of cases in the UK, advice on staying at home, travel advice and myth busting. The chatbots of the future have significant potential in healthcare triage by supporting communication around key health issues such as pre and post-surgery, medication adherence, seasonal flu and patient education.
Pharmacists have seen their role expand, acting as a focal point as people avoided traditional healthcare facilities such as GP practices and hospitals. In addition to the role of the pharmacist in providing health and medication advice, pharmacy outlets were already being extended to improve access to services such as vaccine administration, blood pressure tests and chronic disease management. These prominent local high street facilities could play a significant role in their local communities in the future including administering the flu and COVID-19 vaccine – which may be becoming a permanent feature of healthcare across the world.
Advances in digital therapeutics are already providing genuine options to help us manage our health. Two signals of this are Akili Interactive’s digital therapeutic for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which uses gaming as a form of treatment for children, or Voluntis’ digital therapy for type 2 diabetes which is used in combination with traditional insulin treatment (providing insulin dose recommendations and coaching messages) to help patients manage their long-term condition. However, with only one in four (25%) saying they have ever heard the term digital therapeutics, boosting awareness of these solutions should be a priority if they are to become a viable healthcare option for the mass market.
Ultimately COVID-19 has produced many examples of humans and technology working together in an effort to fill resource gaps, expedite and improve communication and provide valuable data to understand rapidly evolving situations. It is this genuine need, in addition to providing real added value to struggling healthcare systems, which should mean solutions, such as the examples described in this article, become standard tools in the management of our health.
The pandemic has accelerated our awareness and understanding of alternative options to healthcare and has been a significant catalyst for more widespread and likely permanent changes, hopefully for the better. The business opportunity for the industry remains a continued focus on ‘beyond the pill solutions’ for patients and healthcare professionals, which provide value and fill unmet needs.
Successful solutions will truly understand their customer, be able to articulate the unmet human and system needs and build a compelling digital value story and 2021 will be a catalyst for further change.
 Ipsos | DTxdata | April/May 2020
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