How Digital Transformation Enables a Systematic Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

For many years now, we’ve all been talking about a worldwide digital transformation in healthcare.  One of the key motivations for healthcare’s digital transformation has been to enable the shift from labor-intensive, manual, in-person encounters in healthcare facilities and replace them with encounters that are instead digital, possibly automated, and which can take place wherever the patient happens to be. In this transformed healthcare experience, we will be able to leverage data and digital technologies to deliver better health outcomes, drive transaction costs to zero, eliminate geographic constraints, and ultimately scale our operations.

Across industries, we talk about revolutionizing the customer experience. In healthcare, this revolution has focused on experiences for each patient, every health plan member, every healthcare provider, and all healthcare employees. And when it comes to providing the best care for people who are already ill, we also know that hospitals and medical offices are dangerous places. After all, those who are sick can infect those that are healthy—and this includes our healthcare providers. The more we can provide appropriate assessments, diagnose, and treat patients in the comfort of their own homes—and keep their infections out of hospitals and other medical facilities—the better it is for everyone. It’s the old mantra of the right care, in the right setting, at the right time.

We’ve been working towards this goal for a long time because it makes sense to move away from providing treatment in larger settings, like hospitals and provider offices, and instead provide virtual and digital consultation and care in more patient-centric locations, such as in their home, at their office, or in small retail health settings. It’s less labor-intensive, can lower costs, offers greater convenience, and—most importantly—reduces health risks for both patients and providers.

The latest concerns around the spread of COVID-19, aka the coronavirus, is an important example of how continued investments in digital will help when disease transmission is a major concern. When you compare the current situation to the 6-month SARS outbreak back in 2003, from a technology perspective we’re in a whole new world. Telehealth is now pervasive: video conferencing is commonplace and can frequently substitute for an in-person appointment.

Many providers offer mobile apps that allow them to directly engage with their patients at their convenience, without a need for in-person office visits. As an industry, we’ve never been more prepared from a technology perspective for business continuity, virtual healthcare services, and improved patient outcomes by limiting exposure to other patients and the providers who care for them. We still have a long way to go, but the last decade has seen dramatic progress.

I’m optimistic healthcare’s digital transformations will enable businesses to weather this coronavirus storm better than any other time in our history.  Of course, the digital capabilities of some providers may be more mature than others, and it will remain an evolution for all. But as the healthcare industry as a whole plays its critical role in helping to mitigate and eventually stop this outbreak, it will also gain critical insights into how its evolving digital transformation can be further optimized to ensure we’ll be even better prepared for the next crisis.

With the coronavirus, the last place we likely want a sick person to go is to a crowded medical facility. The best way to manage a potentially infectious person is to care for them in their homes through virtual and digital channels. Then—only when appropriate—you can move them to the best healthcare facility for more involved treatment. The digital transformation that healthcare has been driving for many years will be a game-changer as we continue to manage this situation. 

Stay healthy everyone, and don’t forget to wash your hands often (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water!