As Australia prepares to turn the corner on coronavirus and individuals wind down social isolation – at least partially – the question on many minds is: how the world will look when we emerge from our cocoons to face the new normal?
Few of us have ever experienced such a radical, community-wide, crisis but intuitively, we know that things are not going to jump right back to the way they were. And in some ways, they shouldn’t.
There will be immediate changes in our day-to-day lives: half-full restaurants and shops, sporting events and concerts will still be closed to the public, temperature and other screening checks will become commonplace, and travel will be limited as we slowly work our way back to normalcy.
In different ways, in more profound ways, coronavirus will leave a lasting mark in the way we live our lives and look at the world.
Many of these will be for the positive, the silver lining of the crisis.
On a personal level, we have all been thrust into a ‘virtual-first’ way of living and have realised that we can, in fact, not only survive but thrive.
From families and old friends connecting up for a weekly video conference, to understanding that a lot more work can be done from home – supporting a better work/life balance.
The world after coronavirus will be more resilient, connected and supported as we experiment with the bounds of how we can use technology to better our lives.
This change is no more apparent than in the healthcare industry.
The world of ‘telehealth’ and ‘virtual care’ have been sitting on the fringes of health service delivery for over a decade.
As an industry, we have tipped our toe in the water. We have learned a lot of what works, and what doesn’t, and what the direct benefits to clinicians, patients and the health system, in general, can be.
However, in the midst of coronavirus, these technology-driven approaches to care have now been thrust into centre-stage.
Data security and privacy, as well as ease-of-use, are paramount and must be standardised to support wide-spread adoption; but the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Examples include; the simplicity of seeing your GP from the comfort of home when you’re too sick to get out of bed; the efficiency of getting your medications prescribed and then home-delivered from the pharmacy; improved equity of access to services for people living in rural and remote areas, indigenous populations, disabled peoples and the elderly; and pro-active and preventative care for people with chronic illnesses.
New care models are being developed – bringing together multiple carers, working together over a structured care plan for the long-term care of a patient – delivered in a new technology-supported world.
These are the benefits of telehealth and virtual care that should be sustained long after we conquer the pandemic.
Don’t get me wrong; healthcare at its core is a people business. The majority of cases will still require a face-to-face approach, and more importantly, the ‘care’ part of healthcare is fundamental to healing and is not always best delivered virtually.
But the opportunities to create a more robust, more equitable, more customer-centric, effective and efficient healthcare system in the wake of this health crisis is available and upon us.
Right now we are all facing the day-to-day challenges that have been forced upon us; but while we are preparing for the worst, we must also look for opportunities for a better world to emerge from this crisis.