Digital Systems, Telehealth Demand Expected to Increase Due to COVID-19

In a recent webinar organized by insurance company Allianz PNB Life, Reach52 Founder and Chief Executive Officer Edward Booty revealed that demand for digital and telehealth services are expected to increase as the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this period of community quarantine, the global insurer has been sponsoring talks about the impact of COVID-19 on life and business in a bid to help Filipinos become more informed in adjusting to the new normal. Booty, who has worked for the UK National Health Service (NHS) and one of the world’s largest consulting organizations prior to launching his award-winning social enterprise in 2016, was the guest speaker on the webinar, "Insights and Learnings: COVID-19 Impact on Healthcare System."

During his talk, Booty emphasized the importance of digital systems and telehealth services in addressing the non-COVID health problems that would arise from the pandemic.

"Global demand for telehealth is expected to increase due to COVID-19," he said.

In the US, the telehealth market is projected to grow by 80 percent. In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) has already started boosting telehealth services in the National Capital Region (NCR) and is expected to expand this to other regions soon.

Even before the pandemic, Allianz has been offering 24/7 telehealth consultation as part of its Allianz Well! insurance product. With an annual plan limit of up to PhP100 million, it gives plan holders access to an accredited healthcare network.

"The market is slow now, but inevitably a number of core trends and needs will come out of this global crisis," Booty added.

These trends include "digital health and remote care, with forced innovation adoption, and community-owned solutions."

Data analytics and preparedness, which includes improving outcomes and patient-centric care, and focusing on prevention, is likewise expected.

Booty expounded that the demand in healthcare services is “patchy, and for many other diseases the use of health services actually decreases.”

He said that there are already 13.5 million people in the world who have missed their vaccines, with 21 countries experiencing vaccine shortage. For every death caused by COVID-19, he added, there will be 180 deaths from other diseases if vaccines are restricted.

In the UK, he cited, about 200,000 weekly screenings and test referral for cancer have been put on hold.

On the other hand, the number of visits to ambulatory care practices has declined by 60 percent, with surgical and procedural specialties and pediatrics experiencing the most significant decline. Patient volume has likewise decreased.

Global health, universal health coverage, increased equity, system strengthening, and continued low health worker numbers, as well as the need for sales, revenue generation, frugal solutions, and business model innovation are likewise expected.

Booty, however, pointed out that there is still a lack of solutions focusing on a comprehensive digital way. Time is also running out for the need for scale and accelerated progress towards universal healthcare.

On the one hand, demand for personal protective equipment is also projected to increase. For 2020 alone, 2.2 billion surgical masks, 1.1 billion gloves, 13 million goggles, and 8.8 million face shields are needed worldwide.

The global ventilators market is likewise projected to grow to $12.1 billion in 2020.

Impacts on income are just as worrying, especially in poor countries, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pulled $83 billion from emerging markets, with the World Bank (WB) also projecting that there would be 20% less remittances this year.

Looking forward, Booty said that it is important to "pivot now."

"Plan for the longer term, and take sensible precautions, but also appreciate that the economy has to function," he concluded.