Why we can be optimistic about the post-COVID future

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Why we can be optimistic about the post-COVID future

Healthcare can benefit from changes sparked by the pandemic, say experts at FICCI HEAL eventBy Jason Chan – October 28, 2020 

Post-COVID future image

At the start of the COVID crisis, Indian author Arundhati Roy showed keen foresight. She wrote:

The pandemic is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

COVID-19 has infected millions worldwide and sparked fears of the worst recession since the Great Depression. It has uncovered many inadequacies in healthcare systems and sent ripples through societies – especially among the vulnerable and underprivileged.

But it has also brought about positive transformations and opened a plethora of opportunities for change. This was the common thread of this year’s FICCI HEAL virtual webinar In October, which was supported by the Government of India’s Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and NITI Aayog.

In the webinar, Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief Of The Lancet, Dr. Jan Herzhoff, President of Global Health Markets at Elsevier, and Dr. Tim Hawkins, Managing Director of Clinical Solutions, shared their insights on the theme of “Post-COVID Healthcare World – The New Beginning.”

For one, COVID-19 has enforced the need for societies to digitalize. Digital innovations have grown exponentially, and the timeline for digital adoption has been compressed from five years to eight weeks.

India has seen the adoption of telehealth and mobile technologies increase exponentially during this period. For example, Dr. Sangita Reddy, President of FICCI and joint MD at Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd, shared that within seven days of the launch of the Coronavirus Risk Assessment Scanner, 13.5 million people downloaded the mobile app and used it to self-assess their risk level of getting the coronavirus infection.

Healthcare systems are now taken more seriously. The pandemic has accelerated India’s investments in hospital infrastructure, increased healthcare capacity and ramped up their infectious disease capabilities. It has also brought about significant changes to the way care is delivered – from acute to community setting, from person-focused care to patient-centered care.

As Dr. Horton proclaimed: “We are still fighting against an invisible enemy and currently renegotiating our terms with the virus to achieve a place of peaceful co-existence.”

There are still many uncertainties about how a new reality with the virus is going to evolve. Here, we share lessons to help guide the response in the COVID-19 future.

Improving clinical practice via actionable data

At the heart of the pandemic, we have our healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly to win this war. An Amnesty International analysis reveals that at least 87,000 healthcare workers in India have been infected and over 570 have lost their lives. This is a staggering number that could have been sharply reduced with the proper protection measures in place and a deeper understanding of the pathogen.

“We should now tap on the potential of data and knowledge to ensure the quality of care provided as well as safety of both the healthcare workers and the patients,” Dr. Hawkins said.

This could be achieved by implementing a knowledge-driven care model – one that would support clinical care decisions at the point of care by providing clinicians with the right data and knowledge regardless of time and location. This would allow clinicians to harness reliable insights that could be translated to safe and quality outcomes for the patient.

In support of healthcare workers and researchers worldwide, Elsevier has made all its COVID-19-related articles and research tools freely available via the Novel Coronavirus Information Center and COVID-19 Healthcare Hub. Over the past six months, there have been more than 130 million downloads of COVID-19 related research articles on ScienceDirect. In addition, Elsevier colleagues continue to curate content into actionable knowledge in the form of Clinical Overviews, Order Sets, Care Plans, Guidelines and Patient Education, all designed for use at the point of care.

Beyond that, Dr. Herzhoff mentioned that Elsevier is currently running an NITI approved primary screening pilot in the District Bahreidge in Uttar Pradesh using our Clinical Decision Support solutions “to enable frontline health workers in maternal health and child health to do primary health screening, provide required advice and create referrals for specialist consultations.”

Empowering the healthcare workforce

The explosion of digital innovations and technologies has brought about opportunities to empower and improve the productivity of the healthcare workforce. Healthcare professionals who once had insufficient time and mind space to adopt digital technologies are now forced to adapt to continue engaging with their patients. For example, the Swasth app – a telemedicine platform – has conducted over 250,000 virtual consultations as of August 2020.

As Dr. Herzhoff highlighted:

We need to remove friction from the traditional perspective of what a clinician and provider is used to via technologies. This way we can make their lives easier from both a usability and a value perspective.

One of the reasons for the friction is the lack of exposure to these technologies. Thus it is time to integrate these technologies into the clinician workflow, combining the most current, credible and comprehensive clinical knowledge to enable clinicians in the delivery of care. At Elsevier, we have seen a 35-fold increase in daily usage of some of our e-learning solutions for medical and nursing students during Covid-19.

Now, we need to guide clinicians on their journey to adoption by inculcating the right habits – starting from their medical and nursing education. By equipping them with the foundation of necessary technology skills, we will make it easier for them to adopt new technologies and interact with patients. In the long run, this approach has the potential to improve workforce productivity and enhance patient outcomes.

Not losing sight of learning new knowledge

Scientific data has been essential to understanding this pandemic, especially at a time when misinformation is proliferated. With the research conducted by scientists and clinicians globally, we have learned so much regarding the transmission, spread, control, risk factors, diagnosis and prevention methods. While much remains to be discovered, research and knowledge play a key role in guiding our response in today’s infodemic, with an overabundance of information online and offline. This ambitious undertaking includes mitigating deliberate attempts to disseminate wrong information to undermine the public health response, which makes it difficult to identify a solution.

Economies are now bearing the brunt of the pandemic, and the scientific community is no exception. Universities, research centers and laboratories have been forced to close. However, we must remember that these institutions are a hub for knowledge and the development of new ideas, treatments and cures — the foundation for the progress of our society. Governments should therefore protect these institutions and their ability to generate new knowledge, which will in turn protect our societies.

Addressing larger societal issues

During his keynote presentation, Dr. Horton described the COVID-19 pandemic as a syndemic, which refers to a combination of two epidemics – one being the novel coronavirus and the other comprising non-communicable diseases. Mortality rates are higher among patients who had underlying conditions. This brings to light the issues faced by those marginalized populations: vulnerable elderly people, ethnic minorities, and countries’ unaddressed healthcare burden.

In India, over 4 million people are homeless, and an estimated 65 percent of Mumbai’s population live in slums. This puts them at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection due to poor and congested living conditions. As such, our solution must go beyond just addressing the virus. We need to start preventing chronic diseases and overcoming inequality and poverty.

An optimistic post COVID-19 future

COVID-19 has left a trail of devastation in its wake. Yet we can be highly optimistic of what the future brings. The pandemic has revealed the underlying gaps in society, which has the potential to bring about an avalanche of positive changes. Issues faced by those living at the margins of society are now taking center stage in the government’s agenda. We have the power to grasp these opportunities and address the challenges posed by the pandemic.

By relooking at our focus in key areas – clinical practice, education, research and society – we are well on our way to achieving a balance in this new post-COVID reality.


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