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Healthcare facilities in a post-COVID world–What will 2021 look like ?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of a robust, resilient healthcare system into sharp focus. Sweeping across the globe on an unprecedented scale, it overwhelmed the healthcare systems of even developed countries like Italy and Spain. Across the world, with around 5 percent of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care, one aspect of healthcare that was highlighted was the need for a strong critical care infrastructure. India with just 2.3 critical care beds per 100,000 population as against 10 to 11 beds per 100,000 population in developed countries like South Korea and Singapore too faced this challenge.

One of the highlights of the health system response to COVID-19 was the rapid uptake of technology, which helped to bridge the physical gap between patients and care providers with virtual platforms and apps that facilitated virtual contact between clinicians and the patient.

The pandemic accelerated adoption of telemedicine by a decade with virtual consultations making it a convenient experience for both patients and doctors. Going forward, we shall see advances in technology permitting the level of care received through a virtual appointment to be the same as an in-person visit in most cases. If healthcare organizations are to stay relevant in the post-COVID-19 world, they will need to focus on their patients and find new ways to leverage technology to deliver seamless streamlined healthcare.

The increased adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital technology has brought about a paradigm shift to the practice of medicine. The future will see healthcare facilities armed with tools that equip doctors in the fight against the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). AI will be key in improving access to healthcare, in the prevention and management of diseases including NCDs and save time in diagnosis and selection of the best treatment option for a patient. AI tools are used in cardiology, neurology, and oncology.

AI can play a major part in the prediction and monitoring of disease while empowering physicians with the power of data to make superior clinical decisions. An example of this is Apollo Hospitals’ collaboration with Microsoft for an Intelligent Platform to predict cardiovascular disease risk score in the Indian population. Doctors across the Apollo network of hospitals are today leveraging this AI-powered API to predict the risk of CVD and drive preventive cardiac care across the country. Platforms for other NCDs such as diabetes, hypertension and for prevention of stroke and CVA are being developed.

The pandemic also highlighted the role of collaboration in facing the COVID-19 challenge. We also saw this enabling a rapid response with the repurposing of medicines, the development of vaccines are a pace that has never been seen before.

The year ahead should see healthcare institutions investing in Internet of Things (IoT) that will facilitate collaboration and connections while overcoming distances to increase access for patients. In addition, healthcare will require to invest in and adopt automation, robotics, 3D printing, and more such advances in medical technology to stay ahead and ensure that the patients get the best treatment available.

While technology may set the foundation for healthcare in 2021, which cannot be ignored is the need to strengthen the physical healthcare infrastructure across preventive, primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare. This may require a revisit of the traditional approaches to the creation of physical infrastructure for healthcare with a focus on improving disease management to be prepared for any future pandemics.

We have seen the private sector rise to the occasion whether it was in testing, quarantine, treatment of patients, in manufacture of drugs for COVID-19, or even in the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines. We should see more examples of public-private collaboration in healthcare arising from the learnings of COVID-19 as we move forward in 2021 and see India fulfil its potential of becoming a base for research and innovation, and the destination of choice for medical manufacturers across pharma and devices.

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