Innovating to improve post-pandemic healthcare
There are clouds overhead in Southeast Asia, as fresh Covid-19 infections and new variants drive rising cases and lockdowns in countries including Thailand. But despite the current challenges, there is welcome light on the horizon as we look beyond the pandemic.
In our white paper, "The Covid-19 High-Wire Act Continues, But So Too Does Opportunity", Boston Consulting Group (BCG) explores the potential revealed through encouraging innovations that have emerged from a challenging 18 months.
Transformations in science and technology, including vaccines, promise an end to the pandemic. They also offer the chance to deliver better, fairer healthcare in the world that follows.
In an earlier paper, we argued that the path to tackling Covid was to Detect its spread, Develop healthcare and societal mitigations, and Deliver interventions that helped save lives.
Nations such as Australia and New Zealand showed early on that acting rapidly was the most effective strategy. Thailand performed well thanks to targeted testing and strict quarantine procedures, but emerging waves driven by more infectious variants reveal how precarious that position can be. This changing situation can lead to rolling restrictions and an uncertain near-term future.
Ensuring equitable global vaccine access will be essential to a sustainable global solution. Thailand offers an example of this struggle, with the infrastructure to develop its own vaccines offering an important global benefit, but one facing short-term supply challenges. The announced donation of doses by Japan is a powerful example of the need for global collaboration in overcoming this challenge.
Covid and its variants will never truly be eliminated, given vaccine hesitancy and healthcare access challenges, but a global commitment to vaccine provision is vital in managing the threat.
Besides vaccines, digital applications to track exposure to the virus are the most obvious of the other innovations emerging. Others include point-of-care diagnostics, data-driven analysis of disease outbreaks and new treatment modalities.
These innovations did not appear in isolation, but were built on existing or emerging technologies. This has shown that with the right policies and resourcing, it is possible to change the long-term trajectory of global health.
Innovation has also built on existing relationships through public-private partnerships, allowing us to act quickly and effectively, revealing how collaboration can drive positive societal and health impacts.
In Thailand, the development of the so-called Phuket Sandbox to pilot a combination of accelerated vaccine rollout and enhanced digital tracking offers a window into the benefits -- combining pandemic-related innovations to offer a welcome pathway beyond the disruption and kickstarting the country's vital tourism industry once more.
Radical transformations in the provision of healthcare in the past year offer the potential for sustained and positive change in a post-pandemic reality. For example, the innovations and infrastructure designed to deliver Covid vaccines could promise greater opportunities for the future -- if effectively sustained.
The current trajectory indicates a significant oversupply of Covid vaccines into next year, offering a chance to direct manufacturing, supply chains and administrative capacity toward traditional interventions alongside innovative new vaccines for conditions such as cancer.
Proof-of-concept for mRNA technologies -- critical to several key vaccines -- also offers a path to innovative treatments for conditions from infectious disease to cancer. Using an enhanced supply chain with flexible manufacturing technologies could amplify this opportunity.
The transition of testing capacity for Covid is another encouraging area. Now imagine that same testing innovation -- alongside digital technologies used to track Covid -- being used to diagnose and track symptoms for infectious diseases, or major conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.
Elements such as digital tele-health services saw renewed focus during the pandemic, unlocking wider access to healthcare. The Medical Council of Thailand has issued guidance on telehealth in response to new demand, while the mobile operator AIS and partners are ready to meet the appetite for digital health services.
Using non-traditional frontline healthcare workers to deliver an expanding range of services, as we've seen with mass vaccination, also offers significant potential, particularly in less-developed countries with reduced access to traditional healthcare.
Maintaining the spirit of clear communication and collaboration will be fundamental to delivering on this promise. Tailored communication that targets specific communities has been an invaluable part of tackling Covid, and one that should be maintained in future. That offers a pathway to better engage and treat conditions from mental health to maternal health.
It's clear that there is no balancing act that enables countries to successfully navigate a false trade-off between health and the economy. It's equally clear that vaccines form the foundation to a sustainable solution.
But we wish to stress that we now have a powerful opportunity not just to build back to normal healthcare provision, but beyond it. The innovations adopted to tackle Covid should be sustained and scaled if we are to ensure a more resilient healthcare system that delivers long-term benefits for Thailand and its people.
As a major health tourism destination and regional vaccine manufacturer, Thailand is positioned to provide a positive influence. That promises a future in which we can not only improve everyday access and engagement with healthcare but position ourselves us to better tackle future healthcare threats that may emerge.
Vincent Chin is managing director and senior partner, and global leader for Boston Consulting Group's public sector practice.