While the world battles a pandemic in just the beginning of the new decade, we are reminded of one of the greatest Roman orator and prose stylist, Cicero, for he rightly quoted-
"In nothing do men more nearly approach the Gods than in giving health to men."
The field of medicine science has been of top priority to humankind as health truly is wealth. Today, when a mere virus has mystified the world so intensely, this field has been the limelight of our daily lives.
As we abide by the social distancing and lockdown norms imposed by our governments, we are often discussing- Are medical experts on the right path to find a cure to COVID 19? Are there enough doctors to address the overwhelming number of virus positive cases? Will medical science succeed in eradicating the novel coronavirus?
While these questions have no firm answer and few remain currently debatable, one fact is established- the COVID 19 situation has laid down ample opportunities in the healthcare space besides throwing challenges.
Let’s deep dive into both these parameters, but before that, we will acquaint ourselves with the thoughts on the pandemic from two experts from different fields-
Cues From Few Experts
The World Health Organization has been rightly urging us all to stay strong and optimistic amid the ongoing crisis. In one of his media addresses, Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus mentioned: “Mankind has been exposed to other forms of an unprecedented virological threats in the past, which it has overcome. Taking a cue from history, we should remain calm and believe that we will surpass COVID 19 as well. What needs to be done is- following government mandates and continuing with medical progresses.”
Likewise, Australia’s Central Bank, The Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) Governor Mr Philip Lowe acknowledged: “We are clearly living in extraordinary and challenging times. The novel coronavirus is primarily a very major public health concern but has evolved as a major economic problem, with deep ramifications for financial systems across the globe.”
He further instigated that it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that we will come through this. What Mr Lowe meant was that at some point in time, the virus will be contained, and the economy and financial markets will recover.
Current Opportunities in Healthcare Sector
In this backdrop, let us cast an eye over few opportunities that can be tapped by the global healthcare sector amid COVID 19-
- Biopharmaceutical industry eyeing to concentrate on accelerating R&D efforts into vaccines & treatments-
A few years back, in an insight publication, McKinsey & Company stated that Biopharmaceuticals can be deemed as one of the most sophisticated and elegant achievements of modern science. It could become the core of the pharmaceutical industry. The industry has already been developing radically new concepts like cell therapy Provenge to cure cancer, a disease which is believed to have no answer.
The COVID 19 situation has given the industry yet another opportunity to ramp up its R&D processes and develop effective vaccines and treatment methodologies for the coronavirus family.
For example, ASX-listed CSL Limited (ASX:CSL) which has world-class expertise in immunological science, vaccinology and protein therapeutics is actively working on core R&D and manufacturing capabilities.
- Apt time to advance towards telehealth, other digital health innovations in medicine & upscale virtual care capacity
With social distancing being the new normal, telehealth is being regarded as a key technology for safe and efficient communications with the healthcare provider. WHO believes that it is an essential service to strengthening the Health Systems Response to COVID-19. The consensus states that there is a dearth of medical practitioners to help combat COVID 19 hues. This is when telehealth can help to mitigate this risk by minimising the amount of face-to-face interactions and eventually aiding in substantially flattening the curve.
Telemedicine and crowdsourced disease monitoring are other digital health innovations that should be upscaled as it is clear that COVID-19 has forced eHealth into the lives of many.
- Launch more smart hospitals with the help of stimulus packages rolled out by governments
Governments across the world have been injecting stimulus packages to curb the consequences of the virus. Part of this can be secured to develop smart hospitals (especially in less developed regions of the world), so that patient care is top notch- effective and quick.
A relatively new technological revolution, smart hospitals require a huge amount of data, cloud computing services, machine learning methods, and AI solutions, to improve existing procedures for the provision of advanced means of medical care, and open new doors for medicine- which can prove to be a boon currently and also be of great help in the future.
- Streamline distribution of healthcare & improve practitioner efficiency
COVID 19 virus has been spreading at a rapid pace. Therefore, to ensure that it is effectively combated, decisions regarding the place, time and methods of supplying essential healthcare services need to be streamlined. This has provided the opportunity to seek new ways as to how well the distribution of essentials can be streamlined. A similar opportunity is to improve practitioner efficiency in these testing times so that patients are catered to efficiently.
Current Challenges in Healthcare Sector
One needs to understand that challenges come to us to make us better not bitter. Even though the world today is exposed to one of the greatest challenges of human race which has sneaked in as a virus, optimism has been intact that this too, shall pass.
Let us understand few challenges that the healthcare space is currently exposed to-
- The global needs-based shortage of health care workers is projected to be over 14.5 million in 2030- WHO
According to the WHO, the global needs-based shortage of health care workers is projected to be over 14.5 million in 2030. This is a huge challenge to the industry- imagine a world where you have diseases but no doctors to cure them! Moreover, there have been cases across the world where health care workers themselves have been COVID 19 positive cases.
- Maintaining the status quo in health worker production & employment is expected to result in too slow a progress, continuing global imbalances
The WHO also believes that maintaining the status quo in health worker production and employment is likely to cause a slow progress (or even a worsening gap, especially in countries that are already lagging behind in their health outcomes) and continuing global imbalances. Recruitment, development and training and retention of the health workforce needs to be proactively watched.
- Smart hospitals need to be omnipresent, especially as we deal with the pandemic- a challenge for developing areas
While we are considering smart hospital integration to be a huge opportunity currently (which it is), it should also be vigilantly noted that new laws and regulations on reimbursement and liability issues of telemedical care, guidelines and regulations on how to use online crowdsourced disease monitoring data, validating online information and issues around privacy and confidentiality are challenges that need to be equally addressed. Technology sure is a boon but is vulnerable to faults and misuse if not monitored well.
- Decentralisation & fragmentation of health services restricts timely interventions- capacity & financing for emergencies is challenging
Since time immemorial, planning and budgeting has been a challenge with the involvement of government policies, technical planning, inadequate community involvement and budgetary allocation. During a pandemic when services and medical care needs to be dispersed in large areas but in short time, there is less room to address such interventions and financing issues.
As the world thrives to flatten the curve through social distancing to curb the repercussions of COVID 19, health professionals have been on the frontline facing the virus war. This makes us ponder over a relatively less-spoken about challenge exclusive to this section of our society. With the pressure to deal with a lion share of population getting increasingly affected and the stress to launch a robust cure for the virus, a potential mental health crisis is also facing health care workers.
We will leave you with some COVID 19 facts- (data as on 14 April 2020, sourced from JHU CSSE dashboard) -