COVID-19 has been a digital "accelerant” for healthcare firms; report

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The coronavirus pandemic has shrunk timelines for businesses’ adoption of digital technologies to days and weeks from years, with healthcare firms among those implementing the fastest changes, says a new survey.

The poll of more than 2,500 companies around the world – carried out by digital communications specialist Twilio – found that 74% of healthcare companies had sped up their digital transformation as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Only tech and energy companies were more likely to have accelerated the timelines for digital engagement than healthcare. In some cases, telemedicine systems were implemented for patients in a matter of weeks as organisations adapted to the new reality of social distancing and lockdown.

The pandemic “has affected everything from the ways in which businesses talk to their customers, to how their workplaces function,” according to Twilio’s head of EMEA David Parry-Jones.

“We’re seeing how digital technologies are being used to completely reimagine the business landscape,” he added, pointing to data showing that 79% of companies have increased their budgets for digital transformation.

The study has shown that 99% of companies across all sectors are deploying tech to allow remote working, for example, while a third of respondents said they had started using live chat and interactive voice response (IVR) channels for the first time.

Meanwhile, 92% said their organisation is very or somewhat likely to expand digital communication channels as the world starts to reopen.

One respondent – chief product officer David Kerwar at Mount Sinai Health System in the US – gave one example of a digital project that yielded rapid positive results. The organisation has developed a text-to-chat platform that experienced a 10-fold increase in volume due to COVID-19.

“In one case, the live chat identified an elderly patient who needed immediate help and they were able to dispatch an ambulance in a matter of minutes,” said Kerwar.

“In another case, an infected patient in a group home was identified, which led to swift notification of the home and isolation of the patient to mitigate the spread of the virus in the facility.”

More than two thirds (69%) of healthcare organisations said digital technologies have opened up “definite” future remote working opportunities, second only to the tech industry (80%).

All told, companies reported that COVID-19 had accelerated their digital communications strategy by an average of six years, helped by the introduction of a clear transformation strategy, the removal of executive barriers to approval, and a fresh willingness to replace outdated software.

“Our customers in nearly every industry have had to identify new ways to communicate with their customers and stakeholders – from patients, to students, to shoppers, and even employees – essentially overnight,” according to Glenn Weinstein, chief customer officer at Twilio.

“Cloud scale, speed, and agility are enabling organisations to innovate faster than ever,” he added. “We believe the solutions being built today will be the standard for digital engagement in the future.”