2020 was a year of change to say the least.
Businesses closed their office doors and set up shop from home, our health and hygiene was the centre of our daily routine (more so than usual) and schools had a much longer summer than planned. Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ whilst washing our hands, wearing face coverings whilst shopping and carrying hand sanitizer everywhere we go has become the new norm, but what’s changed in terms of the provision of healthcare services?
The rise of digital healthcare had already begun pre-COVID-19, with the likes of fitness watches and basic wellbeing apps available to help us track our general health and wellbeing. In fact, according to YouGov in 2018, nearly one in five of us own a wearable fitness tracker. But how has COVID-19 influenced the development of digitised healthcare even faster?
So, what’s changed in healthcare since COVID-19?
- GP phone appointments
In the push to reduce social contact, GP surgeries began offering online and video consultations to encourage patients to make a phone appointment instead. If the phone appointment triggers a reason to visit a GP in person, patients are then able to visit their GP surgery providing they follow COVID-19 hygiene measures.
Figures from the NHS show that in May, 48% of GP appointments were carried out over the phone compared to just 14% in February. Reducing face-to-face appointments saves time and allows for a more flexible schedule, meaning a patient is more likely going to be able to speak to a doctor at a time that suits them. This leads us to believe that even after COVID-19 has settled and a vaccine is in place, we expect to see GP phone appointments continuing to be a first port of call.
- Better-developed wellbeing digital solutions
Whilst wellbeing apps have been around for some time, Coronavirus has expedited an appetite for such technology to do more. Especially for businesses who use healthcare schemes to support employees. In fact, health and wellbeing service provider, Health Assured, have seen a 461% increase in video counselling and a 38% increase in GP appointments .
UK healthcare provider, Health Shield, launched Breeze*; a digital platform that allows employers to monitor the health and wellbeing of staff through anonymised data insights and on-demand healthcare. Services such as a 24/7 GP, Physio and Counselling allow employees to get the appointments they need, when they need it. The NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app is another example of how the healthcare sector has been forced to up their digital game. People in England and Wales can use the app to ‘check in’ when visiting indoor public spaces and be alerted if they’ve been in contact with anyone who has tested positive.
- Virtual reality (VR)
Whilst COVID-19 has impacted physical health for so many, its effects on people’s mental health has also been severe. It’s been reported that more than two-thirds (69%) of UK adults are feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. Self-isolation has meant many people living on their own have gone months not seeing their loved ones and for others, the stress and fear of contracting the virus has caused mass anxiety problems.
Studies in America have found that the use of VR can help decrease pain in sufferers. In fact, Samsung completed their own study which showed that VR reduces pain by 52%. In terms of mental health, this technology has introduced VR-enabled therapy, designed to allow patients to navigate through digitally created environments and carry out tasks that are tailored to support their illness.
- AI based tech, e.g. chatbots
COVID-19 symptoms show similarities to the common cold or flu which is why it can be difficult to diagnose. Whilst face-to-face GP appointments are reduced and people with such symptoms are advised to stay at home, virtual health assistants via chatbots are a great solution. People who are worried are able to answer a set of questions about their symptoms to help them determine what actions they should take, reducing the number of phone calls in NHS call centres and freeing up time for those more pressing scenarios.
* This non-insurance product is provided by Health Shield Friendly Society Limited.
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 Health Assured Insights, 2020