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Healthcare in the new normal

The outbreak of COVID-19 sped up the need for innovation in healthcare.

by Monish Arora

COVID-19 triggered more innovation of healthcare systems across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)

As the contagious virus spread rapidly throughout the region and the world, there was a growing need for immediate and accessible healthcare. So the industry turned to digital solutions. Virtual health became a game changer as we saw advances in the reach and speed of service delivery. 

But while technology made virtual health possible, providers, payers and consumers have been slower than anticipated to adopt these new tools. Below, we explore the ways COVID-19 has shifted healthcare and what the future of telemedicine might look like. 

 

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COVID-19 has shifted healthcare 

The contagious nature of the virus and the “stay at home” orders meant doctors had to find new ways to deliver healthcare services. This led to an increase in telemedicine. 

Telemedicine is the delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services, including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services, and self-care, via telecommunications and digital communication technologies. It aims to improve the quality and access of services for citizens. Overall, it has economic benefits, increased access and better outcomes. 

 

What are the benefits for citizens and the government?

Patients

 
  • Access anytime, anywhere - 24/7 digital access to primary care physicians and specialists 

  • Reduced ER visits - remote care from your own home, while avoiding the waiting room

  • Savings in time and money - less time spent away from work or school, less transportation and therefore reduced expenses

Doctors

 
  • Cost savings - no need for additional office space or commuting expenses 

  • Increased earning potential - able to efficiently provide help to more people 

  • Better quality of life - fewer interruptions or distractions and the ability to work from home

Government

 
  • Increased access to affordable care in their communities - Primary Health Care can reach rural and under-served areas 

  • Continuity of care - no gap in care provision due to the pandemic 

  • Improvement of medical staff knowledge - access to more information and resources available online.

Future of Telemedicine 

The healthcare sector responded quickly to the challenges that arose with the COVID-19 pandemic. How will this continue in the future?

Given the benefits we have seen for citizens and governments, the region should continue to invest and develop telemedicine resources beyond the health crisis. This could have huge advantages for chronic and primary care patients with increased accessibility of care. 

But it is not enough to simply adopt these changes. Governments must consider the barriers, drivers and requirements that will be essential to implement this shift effectively. 

 

Barriers

 

Barriers - areas of weakness

  • Medical institutions lack full understanding of the implications 

  • Medical and eConsultation softwares have low interoperability, which creates additional administrative tasks 

  • Nurses will require upskilling to use the software effectively and efficiently

  • Potential cybersecurity and privacy risks, which occur when adopting new solutions, need to be examined

  • Consumer “non-readiness” is a constraint factor 

  • Patients and physicians are unaware of the existence of m-Health solutions or cannot find them 

  • Many patients are not willing to pay for high-tech treatment options

  • The elderly population, including MDs, might not have access to the required resources, such as devices/smartphones

  • Reimbursement policy from Social Security public agencies needs to be aligned

  • Multiple and diverse solutions require in-depth research and understanding

Drivers

 

 

 

Drivers - what will help bring telemedicine into fruition

 

  • Fast growing penetration of smartphones 

  • Demand for telemedicine by patients/users

  • Implementation of patient-oriented models in the field of medical services 

  • Technological innovation 

  • New innovative market players 

  • Cost reduction

  • Government financial cuts on healthcare 

  • Not always “accessible” primary care in remote areas and regions

 

Requirements

 

Requirements - what needs to be done to limit risks and leverage drivers

  • Development of a system of interaction between medical professionals and patients

  • Analysis and choice of the most successful business models 

  • Building partnerships between medical providers, digital providers and governments

  • Developing universal regulations, standards and baseline cybersecurity and privacy requirements

  • Creating an end-to-end solution with the e-prescription 

What is the role of governments? 

Over the past 30 years of transformation in CEE, governments have seen more success when they put citizens at the centre. And telemedicine has already shown it can bring services closer to the citizens. 

Governments should support these initiatives to further expand the care to their community.Their role should focus on building the structure for sustainable implementation, protecting their citizens and ensuring data security. 

 

Building the structure

Governments should develop norms, regulations and standards around the implementation of these services. By building partnerships with healthcare providers, they can ensure the protocols are based on emerging data and experience. Beyond the rules and regulations, healthcare providers must have the appropriate skills and knowledge to effectively provide ehealth services. Governments should provide workforce capability upskilling to support virtual care. 

 

Protecting their citizens

Protecting their citizens should be the core of government involvement and oversight in telemedicine. This includes raising awareness and promoting the latest eHealth solutions, continuously verifying care delivery models are updated, and moving hospital based chronic care to home based and distant care models. Governments should also provide funding to facilitate the services, in order to eliminate out-of-pocket payment and remove financial barriers. 

 

    

Ensuring data security

Cybersecurity and data privacy are the largest risks of telemedicine. Governments should provide secure infrastructure and ensure necessary coverage of high-speed mobile internet to allow for seamless usage of telemedicine across devices. But they should also work with healthcare providers to ensure data is protected and secure. 

 

 

  

As we establish the new normal post-crisis, governments need to establish the role of telemedicine. Strategies and rationale should be adapted overtime to reflect changes in citizen needs and healthcare abilities. Future developments should drive growth in new markets and populations, and explore new applications that can help bring healthcare directly to the citizens.

Monish Arora, Director, Healthcare Practice Advisory, PwC Russia

What does this look like? 

During COVID-19, governments around the world adopted various approaches to quickly identify infected individuals, as well as trace the people they had been in contact with to reduce the spread. 

Let’s take the Czech Republic, for example. In response to the pandemic, private sector IT companies developed CZ Smart quarantine. The application uses historic data to create “memory maps” that help to track where these individuals have been in the previous weeks. The application combines available data from infected people with maps in order to identify people at risk. Using GPS and Bluetooth, the application will warn citizens about locations or individuals in their surroundings that may be a threat. 

The application was fully adopted and supervised by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior Affairs. Keboola, a data operations company and a PwC client, manages the platform. PwC provided advice on the internal controls set-up and the data handling process. 

 

How we’re helping to transform the healthcare industry

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Healthcare solutions and services need to continue to transform and adapt to new challenges. This can be done by implementing new technologies. 

At PwC, for example, we are exploring how drone technology can be used to transport medical and emergency supplies in a fast, safe and reliable manner. 

This can be done in one of two methods: 

  1. Point to point delivery, or 

  2. Point to parcel locker. 

The first option, point to point delivery, transports supplies from place of dispatch to a specific, chosen destination. This would allow for secure take-off and landing, and direct delivery to recipients in need. 

Point to parcel delivery, on the other hand, could create a wider reach. Delivering supplies to a dedicated parcel locker with a drone landing pad allows for automation of the process and placement in convenient locations, such as city centres. 

Drone technology has already assisted with medical supply delivery in several countries around the world. At PwC we are actively working with our clients to develop these services so we can efficiently bring supplies to citizens globally.

 

Contact us

Monish Arora

Director, Healthcare Industry & Practice Advisory, PwC Russia

+7 (905) 511 7700

Email

Agnieszka Gajewska

CEE Public Sector & Infrastructure Leader, Warsaw, PwC Poland

+48 517 140 537

Email

Malina Jankowska

Director, Public Sector, Warsaw, PwC Poland

+48 519 508 126

Email

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