What Will Healthcare Look Like Post-Covid?
Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on our healthcare systems and providers. Underlying issues were exposed and new challenges started to develop. At the same time, the medical tourism industry has been hit due to extensive travel restrictions.
We spoke to Dr. Sophie Chung, founder and CEO of Qunomedical, about what we can learn from the pandemic and how post-Covid healthcare might look.
When will we travel again for treatments? What factors will affect this?
We’ve always been travelling for treatments. In the past twelve months, the number of people went down a little bit, but at Qunomedical we have always seen people travelling for treatments. To me, that’s a strong sign that people don’t postpone their healthcare, and that healthcare is still one of the most important things in people’s lives — even a global pandemic will not be able to hold everyone back.
Vaccinations are going to be an important factor. The number of Corona cases will go down and people will trust the process again. And overall, the more people that travel for treatment, the more normal it will become. I think that’s what we will see in the next one or two years.
Will the pandemic affect waiting times for treatments?
We already see that the pandemic has affected waiting times, especially locally. The local healthcare systems that had to cancel surgeries are slowly ramping up, but the backlog of treatments that have to be performed can go back months or years.
When it comes to medical travel, the situation is less severe because you have more choice in terms of where to go, and as a patient, there are more options that you can choose from. That’s one of the advantages of medical travel — you don’t have to put up with just one option that gives you long waiting times. If you don’t like it, you just choose a different place to go to.
Will the pandemic affect treatment costs?
I don’t think there’s going to be a huge difference post-Covid. Healthcare costs are healthcare costs, and that’s something that remains quite stable over time. Sometimes it goes up a bit with the complexity of treatments increasing, but I imagine that healthcare costs will remain stable over time.
What has the pandemic taught us about healthcare systems?
In general, the pandemic has taught us that healthcare is one of the most important things in life and that without health nothing else works. The pandemic has made this very clear. If we’re not healthy as human beings, if we’re not healthy as a society, everything stands still. The pandemic drove this home and I think a lot of people started to realise what it really means to have a functioning healthcare system.
The pandemic has also uncovered a lot of weaknesses in each healthcare system. I hope that the responsible people will take this as an opportunity to learn and improve in the next few years.
Another learning is related to inter-offerability, connection, and data exchange. The pandemic has shown that, in times of crisis, we have to get closer together and really help each other out — nationally and internationally. In order to do so, we need to have the right systems in place. First and foremost that means creating transparency. It means creating systems that can integrate and communicate with each other. It means data exchange.
During the pandemic, it became very clear how isolated each healthcare system is, and not just internationally but also on a national level. One example of this is when I hear from my doctor colleagues that they have to call up each hospital to figure out whether any intensive care unit beds are available.
It starts with the small things, but it’s also found on a cross-national or global level. One example here is vaccine distribution. I think there is a notion of wanting to act as an international community, but at the same time, we just don’t have the systems and processes in place that allow us to do so.
Is there anything else that you’ve learnt from the pandemic that you’d like to share?
What I really learnt from the pandemic was how important healthcare is to us as human beings — as individuals, but also as a society. It taught us that we need to put more effort and attention into maintaining a healthy healthcare system. That starts with the people that work in the healthcare system, how much funding goes into it, how much scientific progress and scientific funding we put into it. But it’s also the way we treat patients, and the tools and amount of digitalisation we allow into the system. These are not new points, but the pandemic made these things much clearer.
Finally, I think many people have learnt a lot about infectious diseases. As a doctor and former scientist, that’s something I really loved seeing. All of a sudden people started understanding how you pass on viruses and what you can do to protect yourself. People are talking about mRNA and vector vaccines. I think the world has become a little bit more scientific, which is nice to see.