Healthcare has begun to undergo significant changes in the twenty-first century. A cultural revolution known as digital health has occurred because of a rise in the number of patients with chronic diseases, more access to new technologies, medical information, and peer support via the Internet. Patients ‘and medical professionals’ roles have shifted because of this.

Study: COVID-19’s impact on digital health adoption: The growing gap between a technological and a cultural transformation. Image Credit: PopTika / Shutterstock

The passive patient, who only seeks medical help when a symptom emerges, is evolving into a proactive, empowered patient who wants to be involved in their own treatment. They have access to technology and information, are specialists in their field of health or illness management, and can collect data using electronic equipment.

Instead of being the key-holders to the ivory tower of medicine, the function of a burnt-out physician is evolving into that of an e-physician, who guides their patients through the jungle of digital information.

The impact of COVID-19 on digital health

In a recent study posted on the preprint server JMIR, the researcher analyzed the impact that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has had on the adoption of digital health. When COVID-19 emerged, the use of digital health strategies exploded. Even though telemedical applications and services, health sensors, 3D printing, protective clothing, and at-home laboratory tests became part of everyday care in a matter of weeks in March and April of 2020, it was a necessity not a choice.

In less than a month, telemedicine in Catalonia replaced face-to-face primary care consultations. Early in March of 2020, they had roughly 18,000 telemedical and 150,000 face-to-face visits; four weeks later, the number of telemedical visits had risen to over 100,000, while the number of face-to-face visits had dropped to 21,000. (4). Consultations on telemedicine services like PlushCare and Amwell surged by 70% and 158 percent, respectively, in the United States.

Remote testing was the next major disruptor after remote care. Waiting in line for a biological sample put people in danger of contracting the virus. At-home lab testing was prioritized whenever possible. COVID-19 antigen and antibody testing, as well as companies offering direct-to-consumer blood test samples and analysis, have all surfaced on the market. Many tests, ranging from food allergies to genetic studies, are now being collected at patients’ homes.

Disinfectant robots began wandering hospital floors, lowering infection risks for patients. When conventional manufacturing or availability is limited and health institutions are overburdened, DIY organizations around the world began making 3D printed products such as medical equipment, protectors, and nearly anything else needed.

Artificial intelligence has also risen to the frontline. BlueDot, a Canadian start-up, was the first to report on a possible epidemic in Wuhan. To discover public health trends and threats, it utilized a machine-learning algorithm to filter through news reports, airline booking data, and reports of animal disease outbreaks.

AI has also been used to arrange supply chains, sort out ventilators in a country, find new medicine combinations that could help sick patients via network science; analyze, monitor, screen, and triage COVID patients; and help hospital infrastructure in resource allocation. Researchers at MIT even built a speech analyzer based on artificial intelligence to identify asymptomatic COVID-19 patients using cough recordings on their smartphones.

Although digital health investments had been progressively increasing year after year even before the pandemic, 2020 set a new high. According to Mercom Capital Group, venture capital funding increased by 66% to a record $ 14.8 billion raised globally. The leading investment goal, of course, was telemedicine, which received $ 4.3 billion in venture capital funding in 2020.

Implications

The adoption rate of digital health has reached new heights. This optimism, however, is not reflected in clinical reality. Worldwide, healthcare is overburdened; physicians quickly burn out under the strain, patients with chronic illnesses go untreated, therapies are delayed, and medical professionals do their best to keep the system running.

* Important notice

JMIR Preprints publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice / health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

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