The unprecedented global spread of the new coronavirus has put global health in great danger and caused rapid changes in the existing healthcare system and industry in almost all over the world. Humanity is waging war against the Covid-19 virus. In this wartime, people experience changes that could not have been imagined in normal times and even break conventional taboos. These changes could bring a new normal in the post-Covid-19 era.
Then, what exactly is the post-corona era? To discuss changes caused by Covid-19, we have to know how long the pandemic will persist. The Korean authorities “temporarily” eased regulations on telemedicine and drug delivery to prevent a further spread of the virus. Also, the health authorities in other countries, including the U.S. and Japan, have relaxed regulations temporarily. The “temporary” easing assumes that Covid-19 will end shortly.
However, a considerable number of experts warned that the Covid-19 pandemic would not end within this year, and it could even prolong for more than two years. It is still uncertain when researchers will complete the development of a Covid-19 vaccine or treatment. Korea’s Covid-19 control and prevention were relatively successful than those of other countries. Still, it is impossible to make Korea completely free of the Covid-19 virus amid a continued global spread. Moreover, after the Covid-19 crisis, a new zoonotic disease will threaten humans almost inevitably.
Thus, no matter how “temporary,” the impacts of Covid-19 for years will never be short-lived. It is highly likely that we may not go back to the days of the past, just as Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Jung Eun-kyeong noted.
However, as humans have adapted to changing environments so far, they will find an answer. Humans will find another normal day in a new situation, and take those days for granted as if they were normal. The new balance that humans discover will become a new normal.
Healthcare will be at the center of the new normal in the post-corona era because the new normal resulted from the infectious disease. The most fundamental change in the healthcare sector, perhaps, is people’s increased awareness of health. People take it for granted that they are healthy, and they make little effort or spend little money to stay healthy. However, amid the Covid-19 crisis, being healthy is no longer normal. It is indeed a fundamental change to realize that health is something that can be lost at any time when people can’t go outside, and everyday life is impossible without a mask.
In the post-corona era, three keywords in healthcare are “untact,” expandability, and cost-effectiveness. Untact is a coined term from prefix “un” and “contact.” As infectious diseases spread by human-to-human contact, healthcare services that reduce face-to-face meetings will draw attention. Such non-contact services include health management using chatbots, AI speakers, and IoT.
For example, Peloton’s at-home cycling program earned instant popularity in the U.S., where many homes were in lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The company sells the stationary bike with a monitor on, and the user pays subscription fees to participate in an online spinning class at home. The cycling program is one of the best examples of non-contact healthcare management.
Expandability is another keyword. Pandemic causes population-level problems. Confirmed patients with viral infections are relatively small compared to the total population. However, people with chronic illnesses who cannot visit a hospital because of fear of viral infections, or people who feel depressed or anxious because of the virus are common across the entire population.
Therefore, a solution should be easily expandable to the population level. In this category, software-based solutions such as digital therapeutics, which has almost zero marginal cost, can be successful. For example, a diabetes management application or a depression treatment chatbot could provide medical benefits for a large population in a situation like the Covid-19 pandemic, as they require no human contact. Livongo, a U.S. provider of software-based diabetes management solutions, enjoyed a rapid stock price growth amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Also, healthcare products should have cost-effectiveness in the post-corona era. Having high effectiveness compared to a low cost is desirable in most cases. When providing healthcare services, however, and offering non-contact ones, in particular, the cost-effectiveness is all the more critical. This is because the service could reach the entire population. To receive the government's support, such as Korea’s national health insurance, the U.S. Medicare/Medicaid, and the U.K. National Health Service, healthcare products must prove excellent cost-effectiveness.
The world is going through the Covid-19 pandemic and experiencing unimaginable changes. We will eventually find the answer, but it will take quite a while to reach that stage. In the process, we will find a new balance as we embrace new daily lives, new values, new standards, and new technologies. This is the new normal. Humanity has always been through this process. However, this time, the speed is breakneck because of the external shock, and the change is progressing in a compressed manner.
The Covid-19 virus has given us an unprecedented external shock, forcing us to change, regardless of our will. Healthcare is a sector where many stakeholders, including doctors, are involved. However, such a massive shock from the pandemic has moved the medical community a little by a little to change. In this time of chaos, I hope we could wisely align our interests and make the crisis as an opportunity to create more desirable healthcare for the new normal of the post-corona era.
Choi Yoon-sup is a convergence bioscience expert, a future healthcare scientist, and an entrepreneur who studies digital healthcare. He is Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Digital Healthcare Partners (DHP, Inc.), a company that nurtures startup firms. — Ed.
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