New York, NY (August 20, 2020) – According to a new study by Worldwide Partners, the effect that COVID-19 is having on digital health adoption is set to be transformative. The survey that was conducted shows technology is playing a crucial and growing role in mitigating the healthcare crisis, especially via telehealth.

The data in the survey is based on the GlobalWebIndex Work dataset, which profiles the attitude and behavior of 17,000 business professionals across 10 global markets.

While these services existed pre-crisis, their popularity has skyrocketed in the wake of COVID-19, as many providers have moved toward the model for routine care that respects social distancing. In the U.S./U.K. only about 16% of consumers said they ever used telehealth pre-COVID-19. By peak lockdown this had nearly tripled to 45%. Furthermore, 53% of internet users said they would consider using telehealth to get screened for coronavirus symptoms.  COVID has accelerated the pace of technology adoption from years to months and faster.  One needs only look to the rapid transition to work-from-home and ZOOM meetings in businesses everywhere.

Andrew Bast

According to Andrew Bast, Chief Strategy Officer of Greater Than One, a member of the Worldwide Partners network, “telehealth, and digital care generally, needs to become a permanent feature of our healthcare system. It took a pandemic to remove the last barriers to its adoption – reimbursement concerns, security and privacy, technical know-how – and finally force a seat open for digital care at the healthcare delivery table. We cannot let that seat be taken away when COVID is finally tamed.”

The study also showed that caregivers, manufacturers, and marketers in the healthcare space need to balance how they implement and communicate the benefits of technology with the inherent need for a human touch. To illustrate this point, when it comes to their current care nearly one-third of U.S./U.K. consumers complain that doctors’ appointments can feel rushed, and one-quarter feel that they don’t get the full and personal attention of their doctors.

The one-to-one relationship between a doctor and their patient is irreplaceable, but it is also transferable. Consumers are open to interacting with doctors via telehealth services, even if they have only familiarity with direct in-person experiences – and they bring their expectations and their realities into the virtual realm.

“Many patients with pre-existing conditions made personal sacrifices to withdraw completely or reduce their engagement with the healthcare system because of COVID for the greater good of all”, says Bast. “Now, health brands must quickly re-activate these patient populations to engage them again by acknowledging their altruism and endorsing the legitimacy of their very real and human health needs. Telehealth is the perfect vehicle to monitor, assess, evaluate, and modify treatment plans as needed without adding further risks to an already risk-burdened population.”

The challenge of balancing the merits of digital care against the possibility of impersonal care are likely to intensify due to AI. One of the primary concerns with integrating AI into the healthcare experience is that it will chip away the personal bond between doctors and patients. Consumers are embracing digital care but worry about AI reducing the quality of those interactions with their doctor. Digital care needs to emphasize the value that is uniquely endemic to its format, and not just compare itself against the more familiar in-person interaction.

“Pandemic aside, for many vulnerable populations telehealth is the optimal point of care vehicle,” said Bast. “People with autism, children with severe neurological distress or trauma, and others benefit from familiar surroundings and controlled stimuli. Telehealth, for example, provides the treater a window into which they can see their patient in their best, and natural, environment to more accurately diagnose and manage neurological, psychological, and behavioral issues.”

Industry, policy makers, and providers seek to future-proof for the next pandemic. As the entrepreneurial base introduces new digital innovations, fundamental changes will occur to the future patient journey.

“The threat of COVID remains” said Bast, who pointed out that Greater Than One is constantly monitoring the health crisis on a day to day basis and working with clients to adapt to the evolving landscape. “COVID has forced a rapid change in the way healthcare is provided.  Imagining a future where changes to the patient journey, adoption of AI, and increased use of digital therapeutics are organically integrated and create value for all is what we are seeking to build at Greater Than One.  We’re partnering with our clients to provide them with the strategies and perspective they need to make that future a reality.”