According to McKinsey & Company, home, home healthcare in 2021 was up--way up.
" New analysis indicates telehealth use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline."
Source: Compile database; McKinsey analysis
Although this increase has regressed dramatically from an early pandemic high of 80x higher (April 2020), telehealth statistics continue to show the use of virtual care hovers around 38X higher than pre-pandemic levels.
So what changed, and how will those changes affect the future of this industry? More to the point, what does this mean to product designers?
To state the obvious, the pandemic happened. Primarily, the shift to online healthcare sprang from necessity. A deeper understanding of telehealth's pre-Covid past paints an interesting picture and may even give us insight into its future.
- Consumers were relatively uninterested or unwilling to use telehealth.
- Telehealth options were not widely offered on the provider end, either because of a lack of willingness or infrastructure to accommodate virtual visits.
- There were regulatory hurdles to telehealth access and a lack of insurance coverage/reimbursement.
Each of these obstacles has been eased or circumvented due to the crisis that is Covid 19. Does that mean telemedicine is here to stay? No one can say for sure. Some of the regulatory issues were circumvented with stop-gap waivers, which may end with the pandemic. But according to McKinsey & Company, favorable consumer and physician sentiment towards continuing the use of telehealth after the pandemic remains high 40% and 58%, respectively.
Product Design and The Shift to At-Home Medical Care
These shifts in attitudes toward telehealth have massive implications for those who design healthcare-related products and services, from wearable medical devices to tests to interfaces: more funding for one. An emerging billion-dollar market has certainly not gone unnoticed by investors. Consequently, there is substantial development money to be had by product design firms willing to innovate in the telehealth arena.
"U.S. digital health startups nabbed a record $29.1 billion in funding in 2021, nearly double the investment volume in the year prior."
Telehealth Interfaces and Apps that Deepen Connections Virtually
Most of us had our first telehealth visit during the pandemic. If your experiences were anything like ours--they weren't great. It was a mess, from calls not connecting to low-quality audio/video: communication was categorically poor on all fronts. The technology was simply not in place, or poor quality interfaces were rushed to market to meet the explosive demand.
Why Good Communication is so Critical in Telemedicine
Communication issues in virtual medical care are more profound than just frustration--it robs the exchange of sincerity and empathy. Product designers will have tremendous opportunities to engineer the way doctors and patients interact: from hardware like screens and wearable medical devices to apps and interfaces. Therefore, the quality and depth of doctor interactions, what once was bedside manner, will have to include the useability of new technology: screen-side manner. Taken in a larger context, this means the design of telehealth products will, in some ways, have the power to influence patient outcomes and overall wellness: a role well suited for products created via thoughtful, human-centered design.
Accurate, Self-Adminstrable Diagnostics Tests and More of Them
It is no secret that take-at-home Covid 19 tests are not as accurate as other more sensitive tests like PCR tests. Manufacturers of the tests were well aware that the trade-off for speed and ease of use would be accuracy. PCR tests done in labs use high-tech instruments and have the potential for fewer contaminates. However, one look at these rapid take-at-home tests will probably leave many product designers shaking their heads. It is easy to see why another blow to the efficacy of these tests lies not with the science behind them but their user interface. It is worth noting that take-at-home Covid tests are still reasonably accurate and are an amazing tool in our communal arsenal for stopping the spread.
What Covid Tests Show Us About the Future of At-Home Diagnostics Tests
The shortcomings of Covid self-tests illustrate that UI in the realm of at-home testing products has a long way to go. Although demand for at-home diagnostics tests is coming from medical providers to some degree, a much bigger market for this is direct to consumers. There are more at-home testing startups than ever before. So it is likely that product and interface design in entrepreneurial niches will represent enormous opportunities for design firms willing to take on the challenge. If you are not convinced, consider this: EverlyWell, an at-home self-testing company that appeared on Shark Tank, is now pacing to be the most profitable investment in their 13 season history.
More Portable and Wearable Medical Devices and Monitoring Tools
Wearable medical devices, like Fit Bits and Apple Watches, were trending pretty hard before the pandemic. Two years later, the industry appears to have nowhere to go but up. With the rise of home healthcare, consumers are hungry for self-health insights from devices that monitor any number of seemingly obscure "vitals": oxygen saturation, psychomotor speed, divided attention, and cognitive flexibility, to name a few.
The Future of Chronic Disease Care Post-Pandemic
Technology has even further to go regarding remote chronic disease care, but the pandemic undoubtedly hastened the effort. Diabetes care, for example, has evolved leaps and bounds during Covid19. For the first time since their inception, medical devices like continuous glucose monitors and wearable insulin pumps were embraced by patients and doctors. Faced with fewer regulatory hurdles and a literal "adapt or die" choice architecture, alternative care delivery (home care) exploded. The more-than-likely lasting imprints left on just this disease alone: rapid iterative research, lightning-fast innovations, and more accessible, personalized care. This makes Covid19 one of the biggest health care delivery disrupters in history and may very well be the jumpstart managed care needed to drastically reduce deaths from manageable, chronic diseases.
Human-Centered Design in Treating Chronic Disease
Part of treating chronic illness is understanding the burdens the disease presents for the patients. An empathetic, needs-based approach will reign supreme in this arena. It is a fascinating niche to be in as a human-centered designer because, in these cases, doing your job well not only affects the quality of the end-user's life but could actually add precious years to it. If you are a product designer or firm looking for fulfillment in your work, this area of telehealth is truly the "mountain top."
Telemedicine: "The New Normal"
On its surface, telemedicine certainly glimmers: a way to supplement specialist care scarcity, increase patient compliance, and provide vital care to poor and underserved communities worldwide. The wildcard is most certainly policymakers and the health care systems themselves. A genuine hazard: telemedicine seems easily prone to politicization and/or profiteering. As designers, we must be wary of these potential pitfalls and aim to work around them for the sake of engineering a better, more equitable telehealth future.
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way."
For now, let's hope the flood of new telehealth innovators, products, and services, stays a course of profoundly considering human needs in this new home/health paradigm. We must remember now is the time for us to lead, not follow or get out of the way. As designers, we are the proverbial "catchers in the rye." A new generation of design thinkers poised to rewrite the definition of self and medical should we seize it. And to that, we at Speck say--"Carpe Diem."