What Role Stakeholders Can Play in Encouraging Digital Health During COVID-19?

What Role Stakeholders Can Play in Encouraging Digital Health During COVID-19?

During the 1950s players in the healthcare industry were relatively successful at—and benefited from—the first and second waves of IT adoption. But they struggled to successfully manage the myriad stakeholders, regulations, and privacy concerns required to build a fully integrated healthcare IT system. This is partly because the first and second wave of IT adoption focused more on processes and less on patient needs. According to McKinsey, still, programs like the N3 communication network in the United Kingdom and the secure telematics platform in Germany have created powerful infrastructures that have the potential to support the third wave of digital services in healthcare—but only if stakeholders take the appropriate next steps.

As the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency continues, its economic fallout is also mounting. Global economic growth has gone in reverse, businesses have started canceling service to customers, and millions are technically unemployed or fired. So, what happened to 'stakeholder capitalism', the enlightened economic model many companies espoused just months ago?

Stakeholder capitalism is about ensuring the long-term preservation and resilience of the company and embedding a company in society. In this sense, a short-term economic crisis, like this COVID-19-induced one, reveals which companies truly embodied the stakeholder model, and which ones only paid lip service to it, while maintaining fundamentally a short-term profit orientation.

As, digital health solutions can be effectively used throughout the entire coronavirus patient 'lifecycle', from triage and self-testing to quarantine and post-quarantine management, stakeholder capitalism can play a significant in this time of crisis. Companies are currently rushing to expand their service offerings to support the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. All industry stakeholders should act quickly to overcome barriers for a wide implementation push of digital solutions.

There are three groups of stakeholders that are best positioned to make digital health services offerings an important piece in the puzzle to fight COVID-19. All stakeholders should focus on using what is already available on the market. Building ecosystems of existing solutions that support all stages of the coronavirus patient's 'lifecycle' might be more appropriate than developing something from scratch.

According to Ralf-Gordon Jahns, founder of Founder at research2guidance, first-line stakeholders, such as telehealth providers, are already reporting a strong increase in the use of their services. Furthermore, the second line stakeholders, such as digital therapeutics companies, are expanding their services to meet the demand from quarantined patients. Every day there is a new announcement of a COVID-19 related offering from digital diabetes, cardiovascular or digital weight loss service providers. Enablers are now asked to quickly select, promote, and apply these services to their customers, members, employees, and populations.

What Stakeholders can do for Group 2 and 3 Digital Health Services?

The second line of Digital Health Service Providers

For the group of digital mental health service providers, the crisis might be the breakthrough opportunity they have waited for so long. Expanding their service offerings into quarantine management (especially the management of stress, depression, and isolation-related problems) or general population anxiety management service sounds like logical service expansions for them. For the second line players, waiving license fees for HCPs and caregivers for a limited time might be a good way to expand into this market.

Connected device vendors have already started to relabel their test devices to match the need for home testing (especially connected thermometers, blood oximeters).


This group of players is currently in the first line of fighting the pandemic. They hold the keys to make digital health a core component in improving quality (triage, testing), reducing the workload and the infection risk of the people working in the healthcare system.

Hospitals, HCPs, caregivers: It has been surprising to see how quickly hospitals in East Asia have been able to implement digital health tools to reduce their workload and infection risk for their staff. Hospitals in other regions of the world – if not done already – should identify and select from existing digital health services to support in-hospital patient care, post-discharge, and HCP stress management processes. They should also evaluate options for the use of robots to reduce contact frequency between patients, HCPs, and caregivers.

Governments: They have started to see the potential of digital health tools to reduce testing and in-hospital patient numbers. They should waive restrictions on telehealth services, by allowing first-time visits and extending geographic reach, as well as screen, select, promote and financially support digital health tools along the entire coronavirus crisis value chain.

Pharma companies: For them, this might provide a long-awaited opportunity to enter the digital health market. This is especially true for diagnostic arms and respiratory franchises of those companies. Pharma companies should recalibrate their digital health strategies to be able to quickly engage in new partnerships with digital health solutions providers. They should build and support an ecosystem of digital health solutions for fighting the pandemic; yet also create platforms (user access, user data) for the future 'beyond the pill' strategies, including the identification of quarantined patients for drug/vaccine development trails.

Payers: Insurance companies and employers should now push digital remote tools to their member base and employees. For those who already have digital health solutions in their portfolio, now is the time for a big push through incentives, marketing campaigns, online training courses, etc. Those who have not had a chance to develop their own health concierge, HCP finder or symptom checker should quickly form their ecosystem or collaborate with digital health portfolio providers or brokers.

"Even though the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic might end in a few weeks or months, we will be much better prepared to manage the potential second wave by pushing digital health solutions into the healthcare system, and learning how to benefit from digital supported remote care in other areas as well," says Ralf.

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