Digitisation and tele-health services are only the more visible outcomes of pandemic-enforced changes in healthcare. And there is more to come. Image Credit: Pixabay

From mental and physical well-being to economic hardship, the pandemic has directly altered lives. The effects were also felt by businesses, with the healthcare sector feeling the most prominent consequences.

As the healthcare industry has worked to respond to the challenges, the ‘care-model’ has evolved as well. Three key transformational trends have been accelerated by the pandemic and are dramatically reshaping healthcare - the digitisation of the field, outmigration of care, and accelerated value-based models.

While physician trust remains at the forefront, these trends are resulting in a more empowered and informed patient as consumers are now more engaged with the transformed care-model.

Digitisation in healthcare

Since the beginning of the pandemic, elective procedures and regular medical care were put on hold to prioritise COVID-19 patients. This created a need for healthcare providers to adapt to new technologies to ensure continuity of patient care. We have seen healthcare providers expedite their digital transformation plans to implement telehealth at an accelerated rate.

This allowed them to render care and cater to shifting patient behaviour through digital models such as virtual consultations. Last year, many healthcare providers partnered with digital health experts to create these virtual solutions, and new digital health providers also entered the market. In 2020 the UAE’s Ministry of Health worked in collaboration with du to launch a virtual hospital dedicated to telehealth called Mercy Virtual Care Centre.

Similarly, Orient Insurance partnered Allianz Care to launch a UAE-based telemedicine service for international health insurance customers. By digitising the healthcare sector, the right technology investments allowed patients access to care, convenience of use, and, in some circumstances, a reduction in costs.

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Outmigration of care

Another key change is the transformation of ‘outmigration of care.’ This term refers to the length of stay optimized for inpatients who require surgeries. Where possible, some overnight admissions turned into day surgeries; some day surgeries moved to become outpatient procedures; and outpatient visits conducted through virtual consultations.

This new model of care is creating an emphasis on becoming more efficient and a shift to value- based models. Prevention and an emphasis on wellness is also creating new business opportunities. Overall, we are witnessing a shift of the whole value chain out of the hospital and into the community.

The adoption of Diagnosis Related Group (DRG) reimbursement system for health insurance has also supported the outmigration trend and increased efficiency. DRG systems help standardise care and promote transparency through the provision of the most cost-effective treatment plans that deliver optimal results. Recently, Dubai implemented the DRG system across all public and private hospitals. These changes to the reimbursement model are evidence that healthcare systems are shifting from a transaction ‘fee-for-service’ model to a more value-based model that result in increased utilisation of services.

Hospitals of the future

Healthcare has traditionally been a relationship-based field, but the pandemic has put a strain on the human connection between patients and care providers. As a result, the care-model has shifted to accommodate for a continuity of care that is able to deliver treatments through virtual means.

Providers have switched to digital means, such as video consultations, to provide the same level of comfort to patients and accommodate our new normal.

Consumer power is increasing as patients have become much more aware and empowered. Patients are demanding a more personalised medical experience and a more proactive approach to health preservation. They want to have the information to make informed choices about their practitioners and healthcare providers. This is enabling an increase in consumer power.

The care-model has evolved throughout the pandemic to adopt changes in technology through digitisation as well as changes to the traditional model of the patient healthcare value chain. New patient-centric models of care are becoming much more established.

As we continue to combat the pandemic, this new model of care will continue to evolve.