Digital Connectedness During COVID
While the COVID restrictions of social distancing and work-from-home have been severe and ongoing, technology has done well to ease the pain. While brick-and-mortars shuttered their shops and restaurants were reduced to their take-out kitchens, shopping became a number one digital pastime, and healthcare became virtual. Technology evolved to nurse us back to health in a new normal.
Digital Reality: The Shift to Virtual
Digital has grown at breakneck pace to become commonplace and allow consumers to connect with the world they left behind. Amid the pandemic, technology has evolved more rapidly than ever before with the adoption of digital technologies having been sped up by several years, research from McKinsey & Company points out.  With such rapid tech adoption, this has come to shift all aspects of consumers’ lives, most notably their health. Certainly, COVID has been devastating, so to minimize contact and spread, new norms have arisen—digital usage has exploded among all populations. Throughout the pandemic, consumers have made dramatic changes to their workflow, opting for digitalization of most aspects of their lives. This quantum leap in tech adoption across industries and consumer touch points is likely to lead to more permanent adoption of digital interactions. 
The Doctor Will Zoom You Now
Industry growth has not been realized faster than in the field of telecommunications as most human interactions quickly went virtual, especially those related to health. During the first quarter of 2020 alone, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50%, compared with the same period in 2019.  With growth seen throughout 2020, high adoption rates have been realized in many healthcare facilities nationwide. This comes on the heels of health systems being forced to overhaul their IT infrastructure and accelerate their tech adoption process to ensure their providers can more efficiently and safely see their patients, while simultaneously ushering in a new era of medical servicing.
Similarly, in the health wearables space and home diagnostics, growth in usage and adoption has been realized due to the pandemic. The use of tracked health data will be a trend that continues beyond the pandemic. Research from Deloitte has shown that 50% of consumers who use a fitness or monitoring device share the data with their doctor. Additionally, at-home diagnostics and apps for connected health and fitness have seen pronounced growth since pandemic onset. Deloitte pointed out that about a third to half of consumers are now comfortable using at-home diagnostics for various reasons, including diagnosis of infections. 
While updates were being made to workflows to allow healthcare organizations to leverage telehealth solutions, much needed updates to IT infrastructure were also made for security and data processing needs (bandwidth increases). This established a backbone to allow for better management of and analysis of large data sets to compliment the trend in higher digital access.
While there was some leveling off in adoption going into 2020, it is believed that post-pandemic, health tracking is poised for new growth. This continued growth has been underscored by the proliferation of virus tracing and COVID symptom tracking that has become widely used by companies, health facilities, sports teams, academic institutions, and beyond. This technology, often tied to smartphone or smartwatch technology, leverages databases from WHO and/or depends on citizen reporting that sits atop Apple and Google databases that then can alert or notify people via Bluetooth of potential exposure due to visualized virus spread and reporting from clinics and individuals. While widely used, especially in foreign nations in which they were hugely successful, a large concern around such tools is data security and privacy. This leaves much room for improvement for such health-related digital tools post-pandemic. 
The Digital Cure
Some consumers and patients have now come to believe that the digital experience plays a large role in their healthcare decisions, with 39% of patients stating it has a major influence on their healthcare journey according to recent Accenture findings. Consumers believe that devices help them change their behavior, and data shows that is more pronounced among younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials). Among individuals who track their health, 77% say it changes their behavior at least moderately (see figure 3 below). 
While the shift to digital has become the new norm for large amounts of the population, the path forward is not as sure as it appears now. Research from Accenture’s 2020 Digital Health Consumer Survey reveals that digital experiences were lagging leading up to the pandemic. In 2019, 89% of healthcare consumers trusted their doctor or other providers to keep their digital healthcare information, such as electronic medical records, secure. That has dropped since the onset of the pandemic to 83% in 2020 for providers and 85% for hospitals. Additionally, trust in tech companies has also declined, dropping to 45% of consumer who trust these organizations. This has risen due to consumers’ various concerns around trust and data security. While 38% of patients are comfortable using a range of health and wellness services, including digital and virtual services to manage their health, this doesn’t mean guaranteed progress. Despite the acceleration of tech adoption in healthcare driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about trust and data security remain. With so much at stake in a COVID-stricken world and the growing doubt in big corporations, consumer trust has notably fallen in providers, healthcare companies, and big tech. What’s more, Accenture reports that half of patients believe that a bad digital experience with their healthcare provider ruins the entire experience with the provider. 
Source: Accenture’s 2020 Digital Health Consumer Survey
Healthy Growth of Digital Tools
With such a sudden boom in usage, digital health will be more scrutinized going forward than ever before . The research states “consumers are interested in virtual health services, but a cumbersome digital experience turns them off.” Couple that with the remaining concerns over privacy, security, and trust—along with difficulty integrating new tools and services into clinical workflows—and it puts healthcare companies and patients/consumers in a precarious digital juxtaposition.
The means justified the end during pandemic in that the privacy risk and poor UX were forgivable as people didn’t want to risk exposure to COVID. However, as virus cases go down and the vaccine rolls out, the challenge for digital health companies and providers will be maintaining digital engagement as the world re-opens. They will need to strike a balance between UX and security concerns to ensure patients/consumers continue to engage with digital health tools that have become so ubiquitous. Will the usage remain high? It remains to be seen. But certainly, if the digital experience is poor (not fluid, easy, and secure) there is little reason to believe users will flock to use the app versus engaging in-person as the means become available.
Technology has made its statement loudly and clearly. We are marching towards a convergence in which we will be seeing far more of a hybrid model than ever before. Certainly not all check-ups or exams–let alone surgeries–could be replaced virtually just yet, but with more tools now in the toolkit and infrastructure having been established, digital has a better chance for permanent fixturing in our routine health approach.
The possibilities of connected technology are endless. And as we continue to dive into the trends shaping our lives, especially around healthcare, we at ENGINE are excited to see what challenges can be remedied next. If you would like to discover how we could help you get serious about trend tracking and analysis, please contact us. If you need expert insight into how trends will shape the future of your industry, contact us and also search and review some of our trend experts.
 How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/how-covid-19-has-pushed-companies-over-the-technology-tipping-point-and-transformed-business-forever#
 Trends in the Use of Telehealth During the Emergence of the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January–March 2020 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6943a3.htm#:~:text=During%20the%20first%20quarter%20of,the%20same%20period%20in%202019
 Tracking COVID-19: Contact Tracing in the Digital Age https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/tracking-covid-19-contact-tracing-in-the-digital-age
 Are consumers already living the future of health? https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/consumer-health-trends.html
 How can leaders make recent digital health gains last? https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/health/leaders-make-recent-digital-health-gains-last
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