– By Andrew Cramsie

Head of European Operations, RxMx

I’ve had a holiday planned for over two years. The hands of time in Mallorca have crept to a near standstill as the COVID pandemic ran amuck through healthcare systems, businesses and people’s lives. Meanwhile my ten year old logs into her Zoom class, while ordering home delivery raspberries and telling me that her REM sleep phase was a little longer than usual.

The hands of time for our digital lives have been spinning with ever increasing abandon. Online shopping, communities, appointments, wearables. The lives we thought were still 10 years away are here today..

And so it goes with COVID. Time, Einstein’s one constant, is very slow and very, very, very fast.

In the pandemic’s early days our digital lives were driven by necessity. However, at some stage there was a turning point. Consumers, who had been hesitant of the opportunities innovation could provide were forced to overcome their fears and soon realised ‘this technology stuff ain’t half bad’. Necessity gave way to personal preference.

Consumer expectations and demand during the pandemic has permanently shaped a number of industries including healthcare and the products and services offered. Consumers now expect telehealth offerings and the option to connect with their doctor via the internet. This trend began due to social distancing, but now people are finding quick check-ins with their doctor to be a convenient, easy way to save time. Rather than drive all the way to a doctor’s office, it’s much more convenient to log on to a video call. Plus, virtual diagnostic tools are increasingly becoming an option as we’re nearly able to read a patient’s heartbeat (amongst other tools) using a smartphone microphone.

Patients are making the most of connected care using gadgets, devices and other monitoring tools to manage their health. Health apps such as Strava, My Fitness Pal and even basic smartphone pedometers can help patients see their activity levels and monitor their eating habits. Fitbits and similar devices allow accurate measuring of important metrics such as activity level, sleeping and calories burned. And devices such as the Apple Watch provides an extra layer of communication with its Research Kit clinical trial functionalities based on a patient’s ailments and objectives.

Cloud technology has been one of the big drivers of this change in consumer behavior. A few years ago the technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today and it wouldn’t have been able to support the demands. And consumers aren’t the only ones changing their behavior and expectations.

Healthcare professionals (HCPs) are modernizing too. In a recent survey, 73% of HCPs said they are using the cloud to let patients access tools so “they can better educate themselves, monitor their health and visualize health records.”

Plus, adopting some digital health measures helps cut costs for some HCPs. It has been found to reduce administrative costs, increase efficiency of care delivery, reduce the cost of care and increase revenue and growth.

Changes are due to technology-savvy consumer expectations spilling over into the healthcare industry. Patients see simple technology such as FaceTime or Zoom calls and expect the same ease-of-use in the healthcare world despite regulations and sensitive information.

And consumers find video calls convenient. Increasingly, more consumers received prescriptions and the medical information they needed from virtual visits with HCPs. The trend is likely to continue; in the same report, 80% of consumers reported they’d have another virtual visit even after the pandemic ends.

We’re also finding consumers who are more willing to share their healthcare data to improve their experience. This is positive, but it places increased pressure on the healthcare organizations to ensure the data is securely stored and protected while easily transferable.

Consumers are also more open to retail options (e.g. walk-in clinics) for their healthcare and skip a trip to their doctor’s office. Today, in many parts of Europe, you can walk-in to a pop-up sidewalk stand and get a free PCR test and results within minutes.

Patients are also increasingly open to being monitored remotely using technology rather than visiting their doctor’s office for a procedure. This points to consumers taking greater accountability for their healthcare and being open to new options.

Overall, what this behavior suggests is a more sophisticated consumer who is knowledgeable about technology and its capabilities. They’re becoming increasingly interested in taking charge of their care and health information. All of these trends point to an increasingly empowered consumer.

The pace of the hands of time seems less frightening to those that can keep up with them. And opportunities await.

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