How COVID-19 Is Pushing Healthcare Out Of The Building

May 5, 2020

As the founder of a digital health startup, the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster. And as we are trying to adjust to the new normal, it is starting to become clear that the healthcare system as we know it is rapidly changing.

We founded Caro because we are excited about a future where informed patients take ownership of their care, and healthcare providers have the tools they need to improve patient outcomes and experience. Developments in user-centred design, cloud computing and AI are making this future possible now. Little did we know that a global pandemic would dramatically accelerate the digitisation of healthcare and literally push it outside of the hospital buildings.

Increased Operating Speed

It is hard to remember that just a few months ago we were still dealing with the usual challenge of making progress in a healthcare system operating at a snail's pace. Today, in contrast, we are seeing 48-hour tenders being issued by the NHS England for online primary care consultation. In normal times 48 months would have been more realistic.

Rocket Snail by Jessica Johnson

How COVID-19 Is Pushing Healthcare Out Of The Building

Meanwhile, health tech startups are growing at an unprecedented rate. Take, for example, Siilo, a secure messaging service for medical teams that is growing five times faster than usual. And Post-ICU, a digital diary supporting patients who are combatting Post Intensive Care Syndrome, scaled to twenty hospitals in no time.

At Caro, we are experiencing a similar increase in demand from healthcare providers throughout Europe. Moreover, we have been able to onboard new hospitals within 24 hours, a process that would have normally taken us several weeks. The speed at which these organisations are now operating seems to have increased by more than 10x, mainly because many conventional processes are now being short-circuited.

Healthcare Has Left The Building

In a 2019 talk, Jorge Conde, a16z General Partner, argued that 'healthcare has left the building'. The delivery of care has finally broken out of the traditional walls of the hospital and is moving towards where we work and live.

Now that the curve is flattening, most countries are carefully starting to look at the future. Technology is more important than ever to create frictionless coordination of care. Especially when it comes to getting back on track with non-COVID-19 related care.

In the Netherlands alone, more than half a million people have postponed treatments. The Dutch Healthcare Authority reported 360,000 fewer patients being referred to the hospital. And more than 290,000 people who already have a referral are still waiting for a hospital appointment. Hospitals are now looking into novel ways to help those patients and the delivery of remote healthcare will play a very important role here. Also, after the current lockdown, doctors will think twice to let everyone visit a hospital. The risk of a new peak of infections is just too big.

The 1918 influenza pandemic led to lasting advances in the delivery of healthcare, public health and vaccine development. It makes sense to believe that the current spirit of digital innovation in healthcare will be one of the lasting changes in the wake of today's crisis.