In the current crisis, the digital trend is accelerating
The coronavirus pandemic is significantly transforming the domestic healthcare system, including the operation of private healthcare providers. Private clinics and offices have been almost entirely set aside, as no health services other than emergency and oncology care can be provided at this time. This crisis period has revealed the fragility of businesses that can hardly adapt to the changing market environment and the opportunities offered by the digital space. It is clear today that the viability of a business depends heavily (and only) on its flexibility in responding to the existing situation.
Many of the players in the affected market may still be confident that they can continue from the pre-crisis state after the pandemic is over, although, given the trends, the chances are limited. Paid healthcare is one of the sectors on which the crisis will leave a mark. Businesses that rely on current permanence, the continuity of the operations of the current system and a secure framework, are wrong.
The role of the online space seems to be actively re-estimated in the market, and healthcare is no exception. The emergence of new solutions, especially the web-based advice from specialists, commonly known as telemedicine, was expected as the communication-marketing profession has for years been calling for innovative digital solutions in the private health sector. This is because both technology and most of the patients are ripe for the emergence of online platforms. So, the time has come. From now on, all market players who have so far avoided the idea of using these tools must not give the cold shoulder anymore. In essence, due to the coronavirus situation, more people are forced to get accustomed to digitalisation as the only way of survival.
Anyone who misses out will be left behind
On closer inspection, the crisis may yield future benefits. After all, anyone who recognizes and incorporates the online solutions into their strategy can gain a significant competitive edge. Not solely because of the early market entry, but because this crisis is expected to last for several months, therefore minimising losses and searching for survival techniques can be critical. After all, the impact of the market will not completely disappear at the end of the pandemic; market processes will not be reversed.
There are, of course, many who are actively benefiting from telemedicine, but they are likely to actively re-estimate the importance of online consultations in the future. If not for else, it will be worth considering the long-term potential of the system because of the more cost-effective operation for the operator.
The pressure will come from the customer side as well
Today, with the relocation of work and education towards online presence, significant masses are forced to learn and apply digital technology. Of course, this is not the same as everyone enjoying this method, but it gives us a “mandatory test period” in which we inadvertently become more confident in this new world. As a result, there will certainly be layers of society that will start to prefer digital solutions in the future, including in the field of healthcare.
The latter, of course, can only be extended to a limited extent, given that many medical examinations can only be carried out with the physical presence of the individual. However, there is an area of healthcare that, although entirely, but can be largely replaced, can be complemented by online platforms. This is telemedicine, a web-based paid, specialist advice.
Why is telemedicine good for the patient?
Online specialist consultation can have multiple benefits. The necessary session is available from home, conveniently, without queues. More importantly, if providers create complex online consulting services, patients can access multiple specialist services in one place or receive much faster and more cost-effective advice than appearing in person.
With the help of telemedicine, patients can also reach specialists otherwise unreachable due to geographical distances, even on an international level, given adequate language skills.
Another important advantage of telemedicine is that it satisfies the basic need of the patients; getting a reassuring (but at least satisfactory) answer to their questions about health problems. This realisation can support them in deciding when it may be appropriate to see a specialist in person. Thus, in addition to saving time and money, telemedicine can also relieve the healthcare system of unnecessary doctor-patient encounters.
Why can it be beneficial for the service provider?
The most important benefit of telemedicine for the service provider is allowing extremely high levels of system flexibility. In an online space, it is irrelevant how close or distant a clinic is from the patients’ home; therefore, the target group can be significantly expanded. Due to similar considerations, the ideal mix of professionals and services provided within the institution can be tailored to market needs, as in this model doctors are not stationary.
The cost of maintaining a telemedicine service is lower, while the underlying data-focused system enables more economical operation and utilization, avoiding empty slots or patient congestion. It supports the optimization of the patient journey through fast, simple and transparent processes, and by analyzing these processes step by step, it provides continuous feedback on possible jams and necessary intervention points.
When considering the business benefits of an online specialist counselling service, no doubt setting up involves a significant investment. Not only the establishment of the technology but also a thorough understanding of the system and the tools (eg. Zoom, Skype, online payment instruments) can pose challenges. On the other hand, return on investment can be planned in the short term, and the long-term maintenance cost of the system is significantly lower than with the traditional model.
We’re in the penultimate hour
Therefore, both from the patient’s and the service provider’s point of view, there are both pros and cons to the digital consultation. The sensitive nature of healthcare must not be ignored, so the implementation and use of telemedicine – ideally – can only be achieved with responsible market behaviour. At the same time, it is a fact that this option may even be a solution to reduce the number of unnecessary doctor-patient encounters and to make the (private healthcare) system more efficient.
In terms of timing, it is not too late, as we are at the beginning of a soon accelerating process, so the ‘now’ responsive businesses and institutions are still in the penultimate moment. However, those who (blindly) wish to continue ignoring the online trends must be aware that the previous system they operate in will not behave in the same way in the post-crisis period. Given the trends outlined above, it’s probably not surprising what the reasons are.
About the Author:
Krisztina Horváth is the founder and CEO of First Healthcare Marketing, a healthcare marketing expert and university lecturer. Founded in 2010, her company now offers digital marketing services to many of Europe’s largest healthcare providers. It is one of the first companies in Europe to offer digital marketing services tailored to healthcare and veterinary medicine. First Health Marketing employs qualified professionals on a wide range of online digital tools.
Phone: +36 30 89 42 663