Siemens Healthineers CEO Bernd Montag Discusses Long Term Consequences of COVID-19 Pandemic
Covid-19 – Ten hypotheses on what we can learn from the crisis*
Never has a topic been so deeply impactful as Covid-19 – it has changed the lives and way of thinking of nearly all of humanity in such a short period of time. Every day we are seeing how tightly individual health, personal development, social solidarity, and business are all intertwined. At the same time, a new type of reflection has set in about how our collective experience during this pandemic will and should change our world in the future. I am certain that the Covid-19 crisis will significantly change the healthcare system itself, in particular – it will serve as a catalyst in developing more effective, efficient and, above all, more humane medicine. Here are ten hypotheses about what we can learn from the crisis:
1) Healthcare will become part of a country’s critical infrastructure
The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us that healthcare is part of a country’s critical infrastructure. Expenditure for health care will come to be viewed as an investment in a country’s prosperity and competitiveness, and no longer as an annoying cost factor. Consequently, development of the healthcare system will become a central issue on the long-term agenda for each country’s growth, along with ensuring ecological sustainability and expansion of the digital infrastructure.
2) Technology development and production: Global teamwork wins out over independent national initiatives
Covid-19 shows us that independent national initiatives in healthcare do not work. Whereas research facilities searching for quickly available therapy and vaccination solutions now exchange information unbiased by national egoism, attempts are being made to roll back the global distribution of work in the development and production of ventilators and protective equipment. But in a crisis such as this, we need more and not less international cooperation. What has now become painfully clear in this pandemic also applies to the same extent for chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes. No country will be able to defeat these “creeping” pandemics on its own.
3) More technology and greater efficiency for more humanity
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, global health spending was around seven trillion euros a year. Despite this huge sum, calls are now emerging for additional investments to prepare for further pandemics. This cannot be financed and will therefore accelerate a rethinking process: Instead of putting more money into moderately efficient healthcare systems, we will increase the efficiency of existing systems while enabling more people to access to modern healthcare. Of the seven trillion euros spent on healthcare globally, less than one percent is invested in technologies that boost the overall efficiency of the healthcare system. If we expect physicians and caregivers to provide high-quality and empathic care, we should also ensure they have the technical resources they need to carry out their tasks as comprehensively and productively as possible.
4) Expansion of precision medicine
More than two billion people currently find themselves more or less in quarantine – while only a fraction of the population is actually infected. In the current phase of this pandemic, the “one size fits all” approach is the only alternative we have in the face of an absence of adequate tests and apps. At the same time, we are also seeing the limits of this procedure that we have declared as the standard for other illnesses. For how often are care and treatment developed with the “average patient” in mind who does not exist at all in reality? The outcome is unsatisfactory results at high costs. More than ever, the aim must be to provide the right treatment to the individual patient at the right time – in other words, we need greater investment in precision and prevention, that is, in diagnostic procedures and digitalization instead of funding random (general) therapies.
5) Facts instead of opinions
In this pandemic we are experiencing a renaissance of science as an indispensable advisor for politics and the public. In a crisis, the methodically logical, scientific situational analysis, weighing of options, and the methodological development of solutions proves to be the superior alternative to speculation, conjecture, and opinions. What this pandemic has made us aware of applies in general for medicine: Science and technology form the basis for medicine – and the myth that medicine is a form of art is being further eroded.
6) Digital will be the “new normal”
Currently, telemedicine, remote control of diagnostic systems and robots, diagnostic recommendations based on big data and artificial intelligence, and medical apps are revealing their enormous benefits – greater productivity, faster availability, less administrative work and, of course, the spatial separation of physician and patient. We are undergoing a paradigm shift from “Why digital?” to “Why still analog?”. And from the risk/opportunity debate of data privacy versus digital progress, a concept of “how can we achieve both in the shortest amount of time” will arise.
7) Patients will become consumers
The Covid-19 pandemic literally impacts each and every one of us. The boundary between “healthy” and “sick” becomes blurred. People who have otherwise never given much thought or attention to the healthcare system have now become inescapably aware of just how far the system lags behind the dynamic developments, efficiency, and customer orientation of other sectors in our lives. They are justifyingly asking themselves: Why is it, and does it have to be this way? The current situation offers us a great opportunity to break free from this “it was always that way” mindset and to also place the experience of individuals in the healthcare system along with their families and friends at the center of our focus and rethink our priorities.
8) Health will become a community task
Covid-19 insistently raises an old familiar question: To what extent is health a public commodity; what role should government play and to what extent is this a matter of private responsibility? The solution will be a combination of both. On the one hand, we see enormous solidarity in civil society. On the other, the boundaries between the public and private sectors are becoming blurred – companies are getting involved by providing (public) hospitals with know-how and specialist staff as well as with hardware and software through donations; the public sector approves financial support so that companies can continue to pay their employees during the crisis. The speed and effectiveness with which mutual aid is offered and granted create a spirit of unity and a basis of trust on which entirely new public/private partnership models can be built for a better healthcare system.
9) Faster innovation cycles
One of the positives of the current situation is that many procedures and processes are speeding up. Innovation cycles and testing periods for medical devices have shrunk from months to just a few weeks. In the prescribed procedures the availability of testing methods or therapies takes priority over the consideration of specific interest groups and over administrative necessities implemented up to now. Of course, the special rules being applied now will rightfully be rescinded when the pandemic is over; but the swiftness we are witnessing at the moment will serve as a lasting benchmark and will ultimately give rise to an agile new “normalcy”.
10) Fairer payment
One of the most important lessons of the present time is that the obvious is not always obvious. It would be hypocritical if the respect and profound thankfulness that we feel toward those who are now working in patient care and treatment did not result in a lasting improvement of working conditions, wages, and the overall reputation of care professions.
*This article appeared on LinkedIn on Bernd Montag’s feed – the full article can be seen at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/covid-19-ten-hypotheses-what-we-can-learn-from-crisis-bernd-montag/