COVID showed us how vulnerable our healthcare systems are – even in the world's richest countries. But out of the ashes of the pandemic, healthcare is undergoing a revolution, writes Dr Waqaas Al-Siddiq.

The appointment-centric version of healthcare is dying; data-led digital healthcare is emerging. We should embrace it, and ensure our healthcare is as resilient as possible for the next pandemic.

Tech like self-administered COVID tests and symptom checkers have normalised taking our health into our own hands. We will need to do more of that, in a medically valid way, if we are going to ease the burden on our healthcare infrastructure. A burden that will only increase as the average age skyrockets due to longer lives and lower birth rates.

That health infrastructure is now being supported by remote diagnostics, where we no longer need to wait for a symptom to appear before we seek out a doctor. Intelligent, connected data systems can feed our health data through to a professional automatically. That will save lives that are being lost because of diagnostic methods that often haven't been updated in decades.

We don't know how long the pandemic will last, and our bottle-necked healthcare infrastructure means it may be more difficult to see a doctor in the next decade than it was in the previous ten years.

Tech can help. In the UK, doctors have missed 350,000 cancer cases because patients could not get a hospital appointment while the health service was focused on COVID. In the US, a quarter of cancer patients had their treatment delayed for the same reason. If two of the world's wealthiest nations are struggling, so is everyone else.

Over-reliance on physical, in-person healthcare systems is killing people. People who could still be alive if they had access to digital remote healthcare and diagnostics.

The present system is fundamentally outdated. If we want to check our bank balance, we do not wait in line for the local bank teller to read out our statement, we do it digitally. It's time that the same digital revolution happened in healthcare.

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COVID triggered a mindset shift in how we wish to manage our healthcare. Before the pandemic, the public preferred seeing a doctor face to face. Many felt reassured by an in-person visitation, and some feared that a digital check-up would miss a symptom. 83 per cent of Americans had never used any form of virtual health appointment.

COVID appears to have changed our minds. McKinsey research shows that up to 60 per cent of patients now express interest in a broader set of health solutions, such as a 'digital front door'. On the provider side, 58 per cent of physicians continue to view forms of telehealth more favourably now than they did before COVID-19.

People also seem to want to take a more proactive, preventative approach to their healthcare; a report from GlaxoSmithKline shows how after the pandemic, 84 per cent of Spaniards and 77 per cent of Brits believe that it is more important to take healthcare into their own hands to relieve pressure on healthcare systems.

The old adage that "it's better to prevent than fix" rings true, and has driven the rise in remote diagnostics that are able to effectively and accurately diagnose medical symptoms from a distance.

This is a booming industry; the medical wearable technology sector is expected to grow from $23 billion to $54 billion by 2023, according to Global Data reports. The reason for this growth is simple; we are undergoing a transition from the traditional, hospital-centric model of healthcare, to a patient-led, consumer-centric one. These are not just gadgets or accessories; they are licensed medical devices that you can use at home.

The time gap between spotting a symptom and seeing a doctor is costing lives. The new generation of remote diagnostics eliminates that time gap by recording data continuously. When, for example, irregular heart patterns are observed, the data can be analysed by a health professional who would then intervene before the patient even knows there is something wrong.

This is objective – it doesn't depend on how healthy someone 'feels' or how keen or available they are to visit a doctor (or how keen or available a doctor is to see them, assuming they even have access to one).

The use of connected, intelligent devices, otherwise known as the 'Internet of Things', is already standard practice across agriculture, manufacturing and the military. Healthcare is the next frontier, and one we must cross without delay.

This industry needs the right investment, the right infrastructure, and the right licensing now. We allow third-party data collection to tell us where to eat, who to date and what to wear. It's time that we allow data collection, through remote medical diagnostics, to prevent our illnesses too.

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