COVID 19: Keep Calm and Corona On – A Global Perspective

Jonathan Cordwell – Principal Analyst, UK Health & Social Care Technology

Summary Bullets:               

  • Companies that have yet to jump on the remote working bandwagon may have their hand forced due to the self-isolation and social separation measures put in place by their respective national governments.
  • We will undoubtedly see an uptick in the adoption of telehealth technologies, including remote monitoring.


On the 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 (Coronavirus) a pandemic. As of writing, there have been over 130,000 cases reported across 123 countries, areas or territories and almost 5,000 deaths from the virus, which emanated from Wuhan in China. We have witnessed a wide variety of responses to the threat including mass self-isolation in Italy, travel bans, fiscal stimulus packages, health insurance policy allowances, business and school closures, and the cancellation of large events such as Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and HIMSS20 in Orlando, at which U.S. President Trump was scheduled to address the situation.

Despite positive news that the spread of the virus is slowing down in China, global fears remain, made worse by the absence of a vaccine. The economic impact of such an event will reverberate throughout the world and will prompt organizations, especially those within the health and social care landscape, to review their operations and priorities moving forward. With this in mind, here is a selection of potential market shifts that could result from the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on health and social care.


Greater measures established to promote a remote workforce culture


There is a wide spectrum of preparedness for remote working varying from the sheer nature of the business in question to the culture of its leadership and workforce. There are benefits and drawbacks in doing so but in general, it is seen as a positive trend. Those who have yet to jump on the bandwagon may have their hand forced due to the self-isolation and social separation measures put in place by their respective national governments. More remote working would lead to greater demand in devices such as laptops and consumer-targeted office equipment instead of a fixed, office-based set-up. Other technologies that would likely benefit from the outbreak include virtual private networks (VPNs) and virtual conferencing tools, which ensure that teams are connected and have secure access to necessary work materials.


Broader adoption of telehealth technologies


In a similar vein to remote working, we will undoubtedly see an uptick in the adoption of telehealth technologies, including remote monitoring. These aim to kill two birds with one stone as not only will they help restrict the spread of the virus but they will also ease the strain on in-hospital resources. In the UK for example, the NHS workforce is already stretched, without the additional demands of the pandemic, with over 100,000 staff vacancies listed nationwide. Just last week, NHS England also urged 7,000 general practice (GP) surgeries to reduce face-to-face appointments with patients displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and instead communicate with them remotely. Telehealth is already forecasted to grow in popularity but the outbreak will likely accelerate its adoption further.


Increased investment in genomic research


Genomics continues to gain traction but, like other forward-thinking and preventative health initiatives, has lacked the sense of urgency that would place it firmly in the spotlight. COVID-19 has promptly done just that. On the 12th of January, China made the genome sequencing of novel coronavirus publicly available to develop diagnostic kits and a potential vaccine. Not only will genomic research receive a boost from the outbreak but we may also see greater efforts to integrate and centralize masses of clinical data for analytical purposes. This in itself will spur further investment in ICT but in order to securely integrate, store, access, and utilize mass quantities of data, it will also require a robust supporting infrastructure.


Relaxation of the drug approval lifecycle


US President Trump’s suggestion that traditional flu vaccines could have an impact on COVID-19 speaks volumes about his leadership style in that he wants immediate results along with all the accompanying glory from its success. Couple this with the ten-plus years it takes to bring a new drug to market and you have a recipe for impending policy reviews. Some reports have suggested that existing drugs may help fight the virus but it begs the question of what would happen if this wasn’t the case. Alongside a more relaxed approach to pharmaceutical approvals, we could also see an uptick in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies to help speed up clinical trials and reduce the overall lifecycle of bringing drugs to market.


Acceleration of diagnostic tests


Mere days ago, there were reports that some patients in the UK had to wait up to five days to receive the results of diagnostic testing for COVID-19. More resources have since been brought in to help and reduce this down to a day or two. Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation recently announced that they have been able to reduce diagnostic tests down to hours. Private labs are also chomping at the bit to conduct their own tests but regulatory approvals, a shortage of materials, and questions over reimbursement have caused significant delays. Whilst the delay in diagnosis may not seem catastrophic, it lengthens the period during which a patient may decide to ignore self-isolation instructions and unintentionally spread the virus further. Investment into diagnostics may receive a short-term boost but whether this continues once the outbreak has subsided remains to be seen.


Whilst there are swathes of people who remain unaffected by COVID-19 and continue to grumble at the minor inconveniences such as the empty shelves at supermarkets caused by panic buying or the cancellation of sporting events, it’s important to recognize that this has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent victims across the world and should not be taken lightly. It is important to follow official protocol and yet remain calm in the face of this rising threat. Our condolences go out to the family and friends of those who have been affected. Stay safe.


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