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The COVID Opportunity

By Fernando de Obeso | Fri, 01/29/2021 - 10:53

COVID has created major havoc in all countries and in all kinds of businesses. However, healthcare is one of the few industries that has benefited from the “brave new world” that is coming out of this pandemic.

The Dawn of Telemedicine

Telemedicine – specifically, distant patient diagnostics – is the new and very real approach to determining a preliminary diagnosis for patients. Many ailments can be initially diagnosed remotely or, at least, patients can have their first consultation remotely. Before COVID, most people went to a doctor’s office to talk about their symptoms. After some follow-up questions, the doctor most likely would recommend some medicine or a laboratory analysis, either from blood and urine samples and/or imaging, such as ultrasound or MRI. In a few cases, doctors would need to physically touch the patient.

This opens many new ways to get your diagnosis, not just from your local physician but from any doctor all over the world. Practitioners who do not embrace this new reality will find it difficult in the future to increase their patient numbers because patients will soon expect this kind of remote consultation from all doctors.

Technology, for quite some time now, has allowed this to happen but COVID has forced us to change our habits and embrace this new way of visiting the doctor. Furthermore, developments in high-resolution imaging for CT scanners, X-rays and MRIs allow that something as basic for a diagnosis as an X-ray can be performed by any specialist around the world.

Additionally, patients are now expecting to receive answers from their doctors in ubiquitous chats like Whatsapp. The challenge is in maintaining the level of quality when using such simple contact mechanisms. But people will continue to expect “instant” access to their doctor. My money is on these types of technologies and anything that reduces the physical interaction with the patient being the future of most patient-doctor interactions.

COVID has also accelerated the development of new technologies that allow for better diagnoses, like artificial intelligence and machine learning incorporated into the imaging software to allow for better and faster positive outcomes. I am excited about how all these new technologies will shape our industry. Investing in these technologies will be a must for all practitioners.

Private, Public Sectors Working as a Team

Most governments have tried to react like the “superhero” for their citizens during the pandemic. In other words, they see it as their obligation and prerogative to solve and cure this pandemic for their citizens, like a Marvel superhero. However, most governments worldwide reacted late and inefficiently to the pandemic, from countries like Sweden, with its “let it be” approach, to more aggressive lockdowns, to the laissez faire reaction in the US.

This is no time for superheroes; this is a time to have a coordinated effort between the private and public sectors to find a way to make the vaccine affordable and accessible –there is no use in having a vaccine if you do not have a way to efficiently distribute it. So, a private-public partnership should be seen as a solution. Companies like Walmart, Amazon, Coca-Cola and Oxxo with their amazing supply chains could be used to quickly distribute the vaccines to most of the population. Unfortunately, politics in many instances is getting in the way and the government wants to be the superhero.

Good healthcare is an overly complex problem and an extremely basic and important human need, right next to food. Therefore, the solution will come from several stakeholders working together and not getting in each other’s way while trying to be the superhero. It is no surprise to me that Pfizer declined to receive US government aid to avoid the red tape that would have ensued, hindering the vaccine’s development.

Hygiene Measures are the New ‘TSA’

Similar to what happened after 9/11 with new travel guidelines and restrictions, post-COVID travel will probably see the same. Hygiene safety measures are here to stay and will become as permanent as the TSA scanners at an airport. Unfortunately, as our worldwide population grows, the likelihood of more and perhaps more virulent virus strains appearing is extremely high. Thus, if we want to travel, we will need to get used to having checks everywhere we go. This will be the new reality.

One could argue that even with the vaccine people will be wary of traveling without any hygiene measures, so as we now demand proper screening at airports, we will demand exceedingly high standards in cleanliness in all places we visit, otherwise we will take our business elsewhere. Hygiene is here to stay, and more investment in faster and practical methods for achieving this will emerge.

Preventive Medicine Will See a Comeback

Preventive medicine has been with us for a long time, but it is difficult to change habits when people do not have a real and evident incentive to do so.

COVID death rates and complications seem to have a correlation with poor health habits, such as being overweight, drugs, smoking, bad eating habits, lack of exercise, and so on. One could even argue that death rates in countries like the US and Mexico are a result of this. This reality is creating a population that is more conscious about their eating and overall health habits, especially among young children who are getting direct and tough lessons learned from what is happening to their parents and grandparents.

This lesson, like those learned by previous generations who faced world wars and other tragic events, will have a deep effect on how they see and act in the world.

Do you want to talk more about this? I’m at your service fdeobeso@saludfacil.org.

Photo by:   Fernando de Obeso