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Medical professionalism in the post pandemic digital age

The Covid-19 pandemic has compelled us to develop technologies that can sustain professional, legal, medical, social life at a scale like never before. In a world that has embraced the exponential advancement in technology, we still are very much dependent on written prescriptions and manual processes. Before the pandemic, high demand and expectations of patients, short staffing, inefficient workflows, etc. led to alarming rates of medical staff burnout. The pandemic further heightened this situation. 

Additionally, the pandemic also brought into focus the lack of medical preparedness of even the most powerful nations of the world. Following the outbreak of the pandemic, countries around the world introduced strict social distancing measures for their citizens. Apart from severe sanctions, countries have increasingly invested in technologies that could redefine the medical profession and make us rethink the traditional or the ‘normal’ way of curing patients. As a result, a new field called ‘e-health’ has emerged as an effective alternative. 

According to the Future Health Index insights report, before the pandemic, 60% of healthcare professionals considered AI the digital health technology most likely to improve their work satisfaction, compared with the 39% of professionals who claimed that telehealth would impart the most impact. The latest research reveals that 61% now favor telehealth over AI (53%). 

Medical professionals around the world agree that the ability to maintain a patient/doctor relationship virtually is a turning point for the medical industry. Experts believe that the typical doctor-patient relationship can be transformed into an equal partnership wherein the patient proactively takes care of themselves and the physician simply turns into a medical guide. In this regard, modern medical professionalism refers to the ability to communicate specialist knowledge, diagnosis, and treatment in a way that reduces a patient’s dependency on a specialist.

Scenario Of Medical Professionalism After The Covid-19 Outbreak

The popular discourse regards the Covid-19 pandemic as a turning point in medical history due to unprecedented advancement in technology and the consequent rugged shift to virtual care. Many saw it as a golden opportunity for the medical industry to consolidate advances achieved in digital health. 

However, a survey revealed that around 60% of nurses and 20% of physicians are planning to leave their profession due to the overwhelming stress and health concerns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Another survey called the Future Health Index (FHI) Insights: Covid-19 and Younger Healthcare Professionals found that around 38% of the medical professionals surveyed are likely to stay in this field due to the pandemic experience while 9% want to leave the profession due to burn out. Therefore, instead of leaving a trail of burnt-out professionals, the pandemic experience has also motivated healthcare workers to commit to the service of others. 

The pandemic has also created new expectations from the digitization of services and a rise in patient demands. Eva Añón, an expert in digital competencies for the health sector says, “We find ourselves in a moment in which immediacy is everything, the patient is more and more demanding, and more impatient; he wants everything fast, well and with the best possible technology”.

Due to such demands, the healthcare sector is grappling with the challenge of rapidly adapting to new technology. 

Reimagining Digital Healthcare In India

As a response to the debilitating condition and lack of required infrastructure in the health sector of India, the government has launched the Digital Health Mission as an effort to revolutionize the sector and connect it digitally with the global network of professionals. 

The digital health sector in India is expanding with the adoption of new technologies such as –

  • Telemedicine
  • Robot-assisted surgery
  • Self-monitoring healthcare devices
  • Mobile health
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), etc.

The  Healthcare Federation of India conducted a survey to understand the pre and post covid scenario of digital health in India. The survey reveals that consumers in India were using digital healthcare services even during the pre covid times. According to this survey:

  • 61% of patients were using apps to schedule appointments.
  • 70% of patients were using technology to monitor their health conditions at home.
  • Physicians were also increasingly using digital tools to deliver treatment. 

Pros And Cons Of Digital Medical Professionalism

The medical field has seen technology playing an important role. It is seen as a means to transform unsustainable healthcare systems into sustainable ones. The future of the healthcare industry lies in not just highly skilled professionals but also in the adoption of newer/more relevant innovations that equalize the doctor/patient relationship and ensure effective cures for diseases.

Despite the never-ending list of advantages of technology, the flipside also needs to be analyzed so as to devise better and novel ways to overcome the problems presented by the digital world or the lack thereof.

a)Benefits To Healthcare

  • Lower Costs: Makes quality healthcare affordable for people and saves cost through enhanced communication possibilities
  • Improved Access: Medical aid is accessible to areas and communities that are otherwise hard to reach.
  • Quality Healthcare: Enhances the quality of healthcare by allowing comparisons between different providers and making this process transparent for patients to enable them to make an informed choice.
  • Preemptive Care: Easy access to preventive care that improves long term health of patients.
  • Patient Empowerment: Empowers patients to proactively tend to themselves with prescribed medical guidance from specialists.
  • Room for Fewer Errors: Instructions are easy to document, allowing professionals to make accurate reports and easily keep a tab on patient’s recovery and progress.
  • Medical Education: Helps tackle the rapidly changing field of medicine by keeping professionals abreast with new findings, observations, and updates.
  • Less Exposure To Illness And Infections: Remote medical examination reduces a patient’s exposure to pathogens and viruses.

b)Barriers To Healthcare

  • Infrastructure: The advantages of e-health cannot be reaped unless there is proper equipment to access healthcare both for the patient and the healthcare provider.
  • Mechanized Structure: Lack of face to face communications between the doctor and patient can sometimes have adverse effects; can prevent a patient from being honest about their condition due to unreliability of online tools.
  • Delayed Care: Accessing telemedicine during emergency care might worsen the condition of a patient and do more harm than good.
  • Inability to Examine Patients: Lack of physical examination can compromise the treatment of a patient.
  • The High Cost Of Maintenance: Digital platforms need to be upgraded on a regular basis to include relevant information that can be accessed by all which is an expensive affair.
  • Deep Digital Gap: People who do not know the required know-how and lack money and skills cannot use this mode of treatment

Prerequisites/ Suggestions For Sustaining Medical Affairs In The Post Pandemic World

The future of healthcare is most likely to become increasingly digitized. As such, it is imperative to devise mechanisms or look into alternatives (if necessary) to lessen the disadvantages of this new mode of functioning. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Enhanced scientific engagement with physicians.
  • Digital Agility: The stakeholders must be proactive in rapidly upgrading and changing their processes with time and new inventions. 
  • Customer-Centricity: A structure that puts individuals at the centre and is responsive to the needs of each individual by taking into account factors such as geography, culture, environment, etc.
  • Security and Privacy-Preserving Technologies: Adopt legal or ethical frameworks for ensuring patient confidentiality, security, data recoverability, and privacy.
  • Refurbish Medical Curricula: Promote the use and shift to digital healthcare in the education and training of healthcare providers.
  • Equity: Strengthen gender equality and health care equity approaches by being sensitive to relevant factors of inequality.
  • Promote Global Collaboration: Tap into global multi-stakeholder collaborations to address opportunities and challenges of the medical world together with the help of a  pool of professionals.

Before the pandemic, medical care suppliers were required to put 15% more in advanced IT administrations by 2025. But, presently, a higher venture is predicted alongside a more limited timetable as suppliers want to future-verify their IT foundation. In the pre-COVID time, a crumbled inheritance IT framework combined with rigid guidelines and the strain to keep up the norm obstructed the digital relocation. In any case, as the pandemic has outperformed the medical care industry’s capacity to contain, prevent, and track the infection, the requirement for a digital health revolution is firmly felt across the business.

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