By Vikram Gupta, Alka Goel and Malay Krishna
While the Covid pandemic has had a significant negative impact on global health, economy and society, there has been a surprising upside – longstanding practices in the healthcare sector have been transformed, perhaps forever. We outline six common myths that were broken by the pandemic. As we look at the transformations that happened, there is a prescription for building future momentum.
Myth 1: Development of new therapies and vaccines can take years or even decades. Actually, in one year, the world has 12 safe and effective vaccines, with another 20 nearing launches, having entered phase 3 of clinical trials. The speed of pharma discovery began with Chinese researchers sharing the genome of the virus within weeks of the pandemic, followed by accelerated, collaborative research across continents. Recent advances in genetic engineering further compressed timelines. And regulators cooperated with private manufacturers in an unprecedented way, fast-tracking reviews and allowing innovations such as remote clinical trials. New-age technologies like AI and ML have substantially accelerated the path to drug discovery and development.
Myth 2: Doctors and healthcare consumers will take decades to adopt digitisation. Across countries, medical providers consulted with consumers virtually. While driven by the necessity of lockdowns and social distancing, teleconsultations were enabled by smartphone apps such as Zoom, MS Teams, Practo, DocOn and Lybrate. Estimates suggest that adoption of teleconsultation went up 300% between March and November 2020 as we witnessed a 70-80% drop in in-person consultations in India. Going forward virtual consultation and delivery of healthcare could make accessible advanced medical advice to remote areas that were not covered. This can also ease the resource burden on large hospitals, freeing them up for more value-added in-person work.
Myth 3: Healthcare data is not big data and cannot be used to fuel innovation. Increased data combined with proper infrastructure and AI/ML capabilities have improved medical interventions and significantly improved patient health in several cases. Going forward, this would spur innovation including better EHR and interoperability among data systems used by hospitals and those by EHR systems and predictive tech to identify the point of intervention. This will surely be a game-changer, even though India has a long way to go when it comes to using technology to impart health-related services.
Myth 4: Established, capital-intensive industries cannot innovate rapidly. Within a couple of weeks of the declaration of a pandemic, large companies pivoted to different models of manufacturing and services. For example, Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, had gone on record in 2019 that they were not interested in investing in early-stage R&D. During the pandemic, it signed agreements with early-stage biopharma companies such as US-based Codagenix and Novavax, and also invested in developing their Covid vaccines from scratch.
Be it medical providers, insurance payers, or manufacturers, all in the healthcare ecosystem rapidly transformed their modes of operation. During the pandemic, e-commerce became the norm of the day, for delivering home diagnostics, facemasks and pharmaceuticals. We are seeing an accelerated move towards digitisation in the insurance segment along with product innovation. Pharma companies have further adopted digital modes of interacting with doctors.
Myth 5: Government regulation and policy responses to innovation take years to implement. The pandemic spurred an era of innovation-first regulation. There are numerous instances of this shift. The telemedicine guidelines launched amidst March’s 21-day lockdown have boosted telehealth adoption among patients and providers. The pandemic has further made room for public-private partnerships as both sectors race for addressing challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Myth 6: Healthcare in low and middle-income countries is much worse than high-income countries. Several research papers have explored that countries like India, Vietnam, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh had better health outcomes in terms of death and hospitalisation rates than advanced countries. While the cause may never be determined with complete precision, the developed world is now studying the developing world for lessons. This is an important change in mindset, which may presage unconventional and effective strategies in future epidemics, and even in preventive healthcare.
Post-pandemic, familiar and new challenges to innovation will surface. Governments may partially regress to slower approvals, and several consumers will prefer a return to non-digital value chains. But the mega-trend is irreversible: New consumer behaviours will compel the continued transformation of healthcare business models. The most successful businesses will not regress to pre-Covid practices, but try to ride the wave of change to better products and services for a global marketplace hungry for the same.
Vikram Gupta is founder and managing partner, IvyCap Ventures Advisors Pvt Ltd; Alka Goel is founder, Alkemi Growth Capital; and Malay Krishna is professor, SPJIMR
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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