Do crises inspire innovations? — COVID-19 as booster for digital health solutions

We dare to propose a sharp hypothesis: Are crisis situations needed for humankind to develop and implement essential innovative solutions?

Surreal scenes like from a movie: A man disinfects the airport to prevent further spreading of the pandemic. | Photo by Tedward Quinn on Unsplash

Plato once said:

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

We currently find ourselves in a crisis that acts like a forcing mechanism to drive quick innovation at an accelerated speed. Creative solutions as a reaction to the crisis were developed and launched in such a short time and would have been unthinkable to realize under normal conditions.

The COVID-19 situation has been a booster for business innovations to thrive and a source of creativity for a small business owner.

To keep on making money, restaurants are becoming more creative on how to deliver food to their guests or clothing stores to start producing reusable face masks. But not only the food and clothing industry is getting creative when it comes to delivering regular services to people.

The healthcare industry faces a boost in digital solutions like it’s never seen before. Telemedical providers, in particular, have recorded a massive increase in their user numbers since the beginning of the Corona crisis. What was previously considered rather tenacious in terms of market penetration and with little trust on the consumer side is suddenly working excellently and is meeting with great approval not only from patients but also from clinics and doctors. A look at the figures is astonishing:

  • The European market leader Kry records a 540 percent increase in video consultations for viral infection symptoms in Germany between February and March. The total number of video consultations has increased by more than 300 percent in the same period.
  • The Munich-based competitor Teleclinic records an increase of 210 percent for the period
  • The appointment booking platform Jameda already offers video consultation hours certified by the health insurance companies and recorded a 1,000 percent increase from February to March. Since the Corona crisis, about four times as many doctors and psychotherapists offer remote treatment via the platform.
  • ALVE a telemedical platform for therapists working in physio, occupational and speech therapy has even moved its launch date forward due to the crisis to meet the increasing demand for online therapy sessions.

This boost in innovation, especially during crisis situations, is not entirely new to human history.

In retrospect we can even identify similar crisis situations that have led to outstanding innovations. Hence the hypothesis: Are crisis situations needed for humankind to develop and implement essential innovative products and systems?

At the heart of innovation is either a need or a problem that needs to be solved. In the course of history, our society has managed to invent and implement great innovations that helped mankind to evolve the way it did. Well-known innovations to which we owe our current level of development range from the invention of letterpress, the compass, electricity, the telegraph, antibiotics, and many more. All of them are preceded by different problems and needs.

In times of crisis, however, it is about much more than just the possibility to solve problems.

Crises confront us with unique conditions that we have never experienced before and threaten the existence of a large part of the population. At the same time, they allow us to think more radically and creatively. Above all to work faster and with fewer bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles. A look at history shows that profound crises have often been triggers for great innovations.

Mobile X-ray equipment during the First World War invented by Marie Curie

One example is Marie Curie’s invention of mobile X-ray equipment during the First World War. X-ray machines had been around at this point for almost 20 years, but still only in a few hospitals in larger cities and thus too far from the war zones with numerous wounded. Curie invented the first “radiological car” — a vehicle containing the X-ray machine and photographic darkroom equipment. The vehicle could drive right up to the battlefield where army surgeons could use X-rays to guide their surgeries. These cars went down in history as “little curies”.

Oil traces caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig

Another tragic example is the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon Rig in 2010 and its resulting boost in scientific research. Wildlife was destroyed by 134 million gallons of oil from Texas to Florida, killing thousands of marine mammals and damaging shoreline and underwater habitats. These were specifically important for commercially sold fish, crabs, shrimp, and oysters. More than 25,000 fishermen and seafood industry workers suddenly had nothing to sell anymore and found themselves unemployed. As a countermeasure rig owner BP funded a scientific incentive package of $500 million shortly after the explosion. The invested money resulted in a boom in scientific research and led to a deeper understanding of the gulf’s ecosystem. New scientific tools and models were developed that are helping researchers assess environmental damage around the world. Scientists today reflect on the accident stating it was the worst in history but a booster for new research:

“It was a horrible tragedy and 11 men died. But the scientific community rose to the challenge and we learned a tremendous amount from that disaster.”

These tragic examples show us that crises were responsible for the development of innovations and gain of crucial knowledge.

The development of mobile X-ray equipment has shown that product changes in X-ray machines were necessary to save the lives of injured people on the battlefield. Medical solutions must adapt to the needs of patients and to extraordinary circumstances. Similarly, a major investment in marine pollution investigation would probably never have happened without the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The knowledge gained from these investigations continues to influence marine researchers and environmental activists to this day. Crises serve as a catalyst for innovation and create the need for investment and creative rethinking.

How is the coronavirus crisis influencing innovation in healthcare?

Healthcare has been struggling for years to establish e.g. a proper network of interoperability, connected data of patient information, or telemedical services. During the current Covid-19 situations such tools and information are essential to stop the spread of the virus and to support doctors and clinics who fight the virus on the first line. But it won’t get us anywhere mourning these things. We must seize the opportunity and finally implement innovations that were long overdue and establish them as standard — especially for a post coronavirus time. And healthcare companies have already started to experience this shift in mindest.

Remote treatment apllications prevent the spread of infections and relieves the pressure on the health care system. This is exactly the effect that many hospitals recognize. Peter Gocke, Chief Digital Officer at Charité, summarizes it as follows:

“The pandemic has shown us the extent to which patients benefit from apps. It is a kind of turbo boost to accelerate our efforts in the field of digitalization.”

Crises lead to an extraordinary boost in speed when it comes to the invention and implementation of new solutions that may previously have seemed radical and impossible.

A “turbo boost” for digitalization in healthcare would not have been achievable without the drastically changed requirements of our healthcare system. Just as the examples of Curie and Deep Water Horizon have shown us before, exceptional circumstances trigger previously impossible innovations and ways of thinking. We now see the same pattern for the health sector. Digital applications for doctor’s visits or therapy sessions have so far not only been difficult from a regulatory point of view but also lacked acceptance by the population. The drastic state of emergency in hospitals and medical practices has forced the government and the population to provide and consume healthcare services differently.

About the author:

Mona Ciotta is working as Strategic Business Development Manager at the digital health start-up “medudoc” in Berlin. Coming from a digital marketing background she is now working on bridging the digital gap of evolved patient expectations, arbitrary regulations and economical pressured healthcare providers like hospitals and doctors. Through video animation, medudoc digitizes, automates and standardizes the analog and tedious practice of patient education before a medical intervention. You can contact her via mail (mona.ciotta@medudoc.com) and LinkedIn.

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medudoc offers the first customized video animation platform to inform patients about their upcoming medical procedure. Through t​ailored animation video​, we digitize, standardize and automate the analogous practice of the legally required patient education. #patienteducation

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Mona Ciotta

Mona Ciotta

Strategy & Business Manager @medudoc in Berlin. Working in Digital Health trying to transform the healthcare industry as we know it. #patienteducation

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