Covid-19 has changed the way people shop, socialize, and work. It has also transformed doctor’s appointments and access to medications. Technological advancements are typically thought of as a luxury. With Covid-19, they became a necessity.
During the pandemic, consumers relied on Amazon Prime to deliver household goods and DoorDash to bring them dinner. They got prescriptions through the mail and visited their doctor on the phone. Remote collaboration software allowed them to work with their colleagues while sequestered at home. Covid-19 made all these services that much more valuable in an increasingly remote society.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the pandemic produced — or accelerated — numerous innovations, nowhere more so than in healthcare. Not all of the following innovations were prompted by Covid, but they all stand to improve the patient experience long after the pandemic disappears.
1. Virtual Healthcare
Before the coronavirus, telehealth options existed. However, in-person visits continued to be the norm. When Covid-19 hit, telehealth visits skyrocketed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) telehealth appointments in March 2020 rose by 154% over the previous year.
Whether wishing to avoid contracting Covid or spreading the virus to others, patients increasingly opted for telehealth in lieu of in-person appointments. Doctors also saw individuals virtually who believed they might have coronavirus. After evaluating a patient’s symptoms, a physician could determine whether they should get tested, and if so, in what manner.
With more people opting for virtual visits to their doctor over in-person ones, telehealth companies had to work to support increased capacity. Typically, doctors would be more selective about the types of cases they see remotely. In light of the Covid-19 crisis, the typical doctor’s virtual caseload increased significantly.
Likewise, many doctors might have previously hesitated to prescribe medications to a patient virtually. Yet stay-at-home orders led more and more doctors to prescribe needed drugs to patients they saw remotely.
These changes offer numerous benefits to patients. Telehealth visits are easier to squeeze into a busy schedule, don’t require traveling to a clinic, and obviate the need for child care. Coupled with potential cost savings, they promise to enhance the patient experience long-term.
2. Medication Delivery
As with visits to the doctor, Covid-19 also made visits to the pharmacy decidedly less appealing. Coronavirus is an airborne disease, so patients were understandably leery of waiting in line at the drugstore to pick up their meds. While prescriptions by mail were already a growing trend pre-pandemic, Covid-19 increased the need for contactless medication delivery options.
For women seeking online access to birth control, companies like Nurx delivered it straight to their doorstep in discreet packaging. Retail giant Amazon also joined the growing online medication ordering and delivery space in November 2020 with its launch of Amazon Pharmacy.
Industry stalwarts like CVS similarly increased their medication delivery options to make it easier for patients to obtain prescriptions. Many retail pharmacies also began offering curbside pickup. If patients didn’t feel comfortable going inside of the store, they could drive up to a parking spot outside. Even as the pandemic wanes, patients will continue to take advantage of these new conveniences.
3. At-Home Testing
When the coronavirus struck, the first thing people wanted to know was whether they had it. Was that nagging cough just a symptom of the common cold, or was it the harbinger of Covid? A shortage of test kits and providers led to patients enduring long lines at limited drive-up testing sites.
A year later, individuals can easily test themselves for the coronavirus in the comfort of their home. Some state health agencies will send residents free testing kits straight through the mail and return results via email.
But the at-home testing trend goes far beyond Covid. Of course, women have long been able to perform pregnancy tests at home, and Cologuard has become a popular alternative to a colonoscopy. But new at-home testing capabilities address a far wider variety of conditions than was previously possible.
Today’s health consumer can test at home for allergies, sperm count, ancestry, ovulation, skin health, and hormonal health. They can learn whether they have genital herpes or a range of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Not only does this enable prompt treatment, but the discreet nature of at-home testing allows patients to keep their private matters private.
4. Remote Communication
During the Covid-19 pandemic, hospitals had to change the way patients interacted with family.
To prevent spreading the disease, in-person visits were prohibited. It was common for hospital admittance to be limited to the person seeking treatment.
Varied modes of communication helped patients and family members stay connected, and the lessons learned extend beyond Covid. To promote contactless communication, hospitals now allow patients to talk to loved ones on the phone during typical treatments. Think receiving an IV, getting an injection, or having bloodwork done.
Hospitals have set up web portals where family members can check up on patients. Via secure databases, family members can access a patient’s status from triage, testing, and treatment to final discharge.
Nor are these remote communication capabilities confined to patients and their families. Patients also benefit when providers are able to communicate remotely with each other.
Consider the virtual imaging command center developed by Philips. It allows health professionals to collaborate remotely on patient imaging, which is especially useful in the case of technologist shortages. The command center also enables doctors across the world to collaborate remotely on particularly difficult cases, potentially improving patient outcomes.
The Benefits of Healthcare Innovation Are Here to Stay
The Covid pandemic prompted — or hastened — technological innovations for patients that have changed society. Who would have known that telehealth would become so widespread? Or that you could get medication prescribed and delivered to your door with a click or a call? With the advances in remote connection, patients now have more ways to maintain their health.
They also enjoy more health freedom. Every new innovation leads to more ways to prevent and treat illness. When patients get sick, they can see a doctor more easily with the normalization of telehealth visits. And if they need to get tested for a condition, an at-home test will no longer seem so strange.