Healthcare’s ‘2008 banking moment’: What has COVID taught us?

COVID-19 has changed many elements of healthcare – from mental health to social care, from vaccines to virtual clinics. Some of Europe’s health experts came together at the Virtual Fast Forward Forum to discuss how healthcare has changed and where we might see it go from here.

Here are some of the key lessons they think we should take away from COVID-19:

1. We need to look at mental health and social care

Dr Shafi Ahmed, surgeon and advisor in digital health, points out the difficulties with social care. “There’s a huge lack of investment and support in the UK. We are suddenly realising that we don’t put enough resources into making social care better.”

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on mental health, according to Dr Doris Malischnig, a psychologist and E-Mental Health and Addiction Prevention expert. “In the US, the number of prescriptions for antidepressants, anti-anxiety and insomnia medication has increased. Data has also shown an increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms associated with COVID-19 across the US, Europe and Canada. We expect more symptoms in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the coming months.

“From a psychological point of view we are mostly concerned about people working in the healthcare sector, as well as employees in supermarkets and similar positions, who have provided enormous support to the entire community during the pandemic.”

2. Healthcare inequalities have been highlighted

Pete Trainor is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Vala Health. Trainor says there are still huge inequalities in the healthcare market, and the fatalities of COVID have hit deprived societies harder, perhaps more than most of us have realised.

“AI and data did not predict that the world was going to hit 13 million cases of a pandemic. Technology is servicing the way COVID is being treated, but it has not prevented COVID from happening.”

“The same social inequalities that we knew existed before are now being highly exposed. It’s those from the socio deprived areas that are suffering more,” he says.

3. Technology can’t predict the future

For Trainor, another lesson we need to learn is that technology will not save us from the future.

“AI and data did not predict that the world was going to hit 13 million cases of a pandemic. Technology is servicing the way COVID is being treated, but it has not prevented COVID from happening.”

4. Should vaccinations be mandatory?

Dr Franz Gruber, specialist in microRNA studies and DNA profiling, points out that in Austria, the vaccination rate for seasonal flu is only 8%. If we develop a COVID vaccination soon we will have to decide whether it is compulsory for the whole population.

Robin Farmanfarmaian, entrepreneur and angel investor, does not think mandatory vaccination is necessary. “The vast majority of us will be vaccinated, and that would be enough for herd immunity.” Farmanfarmaian points out that most anti-vac information is coming out of Russia, and in the US it is still a tiny minority. Most of us getting the vaccines should be good enough.

Gruber also emphasises the need for a vaccine that is free from long-term side effects. He says that there is a lot of pressure to accelerate approval for a vaccine, but as people will receive it globally and there will probably be more than one supplier, we need to make sure it is safe.

5. We need to work globally

Ahmed says that we also need to listen to the global community.

“Global pandemics need global solutions and global data. Each country has been taking unique stances – but it would be great if we could work together as a community (as we have to crowdsource ventilators and 3D printed PPE).”

Governments have used testing and tracing differently. Moving forward, we need a uniform, global approach to using health data.

6. Healthcare is now driven by the consumer

Trainor says the last few months have been the ‘2008 banking moment for healthcare’ and that we won’t go back to how we were pre-COVID.

The last couple of months have been incredibly demanding on healthcare services but it is now entirely driven by the consumer. “It’s no longer being driven by pharmaceutical or traditional medical services, which is amazing,” he says.

For Farmanfarmaian, home healthcare is the future. “We’re seeing companies move things like chemotherapy and chronic kidney care into the home. This is much more effective and dramatically cuts costs for everyone. Hospitals cost a lot of money to run and it’s so much cheaper for a patient to receive healthcare in their home.”

7. Politicians and health experts need to be transparent and honest

For Ahmed, it doesn’t matter who conveys information to the public, as long as they are transparent and honest. That means raising your hands if things go wrong, raising issues if there are errors.

“That’s what we’re missing and that’s the problem we’re facing. We want honesty and transparency. I don’t mind who communicates it, but that’s what we expect as a public and a community.”

About the author

Dr Markus Hengstschläger is head of the institute of medical genetics at the medical university of Vienna.