Pressure Makes a Diamond (part 3): Healthcare.

Predictions for Innovations that Will Emerge from the COVID-19 Crisis.

Times of crisis have produced innovation gems, from miniaturization of CT 3-D scanning and the launch of Meetup out of 9/11 to the founding of Slack and Github out of the 2009 financial crisis. We can expect the COVID-19 crisis to be no different. From a design thinking perspective, everyone has become an extreme user whose needs are more acute and easier to see. The duct tape we use to hold our professional and personal lives together is unraveling and revealing inefficiencies and weak joints that need repair. These points of friction point to new opportunities for innovation, invention, and product development.

Harnessing the collective brain of my friends and colleagues, I reached out across social media platforms to hear from health care workers, remote learners, manufacturers, community organizers, and scientists about what they feel are opportunities begging for new solutions and changes to our ways of being that will lead to lasting disruption. I was both blow away and inspired by the thoughtful ideas and dialogue that ensued. A ray of hope in what may feel like an ever darkening gray cloud. Below is my attempt to pull these thoughts together and add color to some of the conversations that emerged. The list includes specific ideas for product innovations (some almost begging for someone to grab on and develop a solution now), changes that have taken place and the lasting impact they may have, as well technology platforms whose utilization will be catalyzed moving forward. I make a limited attempt to distinguish between these, as the underlying conversation is the same…change is here to stay.

Healthcare

In-person healthcare delivery

Apparently it takes a crisis for us to give our healthcare professionals the respect and appreciation they are due. There is no doubt that individuals serving on the front-line of the COVID crisis are putting themselves at risk for the sake of others and society. The crisis has highlighted the shortage of medical professionals and raises questions about how we can attract young talent into the field. Questions were raised about the future of how medical professionals are trained and how we can think about systems and structures that will address the shortage of doctors and nurses in the US. But to me, the most interesting idea that emerged was about the militarization of healthcare teams. It’s not out of the question to imagine a world in which we have a list of “reservists” that are trained and ready to serve as frontline providers at times of crisis. While this may seem far afield, my employer sent an institution-wide note out at the beginning of the crisis asking for anyone on staff to raise their hands in they had certification, licensure, or experience in X (X was a long list of healthcare roles) and if you were willing to do that job (instead of the one you were currently doing) should you be called. Before this could happen, the systems and platforms to train, track, and activate such a reservist workforce would need to be developed. In this case, the technology is certainly not the main barrier to a new way of working.

Remote healthcare delivery

COVID-19 is likely the tipping point for innovation in remote healthcare. Most contributors had a lot to say on this topic; many of their ideas fit into two themes (a) remote monitoring and (b) telehealth. From a remote monitoring perspective, the ability to conduct and communicate basic diagnostic and monitoring from the safety and security of your home emerged. Ideas came forward, many of which are already possible, (e.g. remote weight monitoring, fecal matter analysis to determine if cancer drugs are being properly metabolized, etc.), but before these technologies can be brought to life, they will require both a platform that connects the results from the in-home devices with the providers and alignment of critical stakeholders including regulators, health care systems, and payers. I’ll let the reader decide which they think is more likely to happen first.

Telehealth has reaped the benefits of the crisis. It has been one of the few areas where we have seen rapid action from States, including Massachusetts and Florida, which have expanded telehealth coverage particularly for seniors. Now that telehealth has been unleashed, don’t expect it to be caged. This opens up opportunity for significant innovation moving forward and will reward those that are positioned to move quickly and can develop products and business models that align incentives across the many stakeholders.

Personal and public protection & sterilization

Development of UV and LED driven sterilization solutions are happening quickly and will likely be developed for both commercial and personal use. You can imagine being able to sterilize your personal space or a system to sterilize your home. But, options are needed for public spaces as well, including disinfecting entire hospital rooms and drive-up services that could disinfect a bus or ambulance between routes. Cost of equipment is coming down and COVID-19 is driving a rapid push in development, so expect to see more UV-based solutions on the market in the future.

For more ideas that emerged see:

Part 1: Ways We Work, Learn & Connect

Part 2: How Business Operates

Part 4: The Path Forward

I teach innovation & entrepreneurship at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Reformed chemist. I believe in the power of science to change the world.