We all think of COVID-19 as a personal matter now, even if we’re healthy people outside of the healthcare industry. When the entire global population is worried about the same pandemic, that reality is likely to change individual and organisational behaviour and make access to quality healthcare itself considerably more important. COVID-19 really has made healthcare everybody’s business. What are the implications of this pandemic on the healthcare sector in the long term?

New opportunities in healthcare 

The sweeping reality of COVID-19 has created brand new opportunities in healthcare, even for players from outside of the sector. With Armani making gowns and BASF producing hand sanitiser, one may assume that these opportunities are temporary for some. Yet, many opportunities born during this crisis might last far longer—for example, temperature checks and surgical masks are likely to become compulsory features not only at airports, but also train stations and even shopping malls. 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, several technology companies had their eyes set on healthcare. Some of those non-traditional players are likely to make further inroads into the healthcare market in the post COVID-19 era. 

For others, it took a crisis to venture outside of their traditional industry boundaries. What we see now is some companies acting in a more entrepreneurial and collaborative fashion, because of necessity and the pressures created by the crisis.  

Disruption, but not as you know it 

In the wake of COVID-19, the very nature of disruption in the healthcare sector has changed overnight. Under normal circumstances, disruption is often initiated by new, (unwelcome to some) tech-savvy players that create a step-change by shifting the standard business model, prompting incumbents to become more agile and innovative. The pandemic has resulted in new players being invited into the healthcare sector to help manage the surge in demand and ultimately save lives within and across national borders. New entrants are joining healthcare ecosystems and becoming unexpected allies to incumbents. What is the most prominent strategy aimed at “flattening the curve”, finding an effective treatment, or even eliminating the novel coronavirus at speed? 

Open Innovation: the vital strategy in times of crisis 

Open innovation (OI) is a vital strategy in times of human existential crisis. Why? Because the complexity of the problems we face means no single organisation can survive, nor thrive alone. In some instances, a more “silent” form of OI manifests in simple acts of sharing. For example, companies with surplus capacity are making it available for the common good—like hotels providing healthcare workers with accommodation, and public transport made available as a lifeline during the pandemic. Corporations with expertise in chemicals, fashion and automotive parts are retooling their plants to ramp up production of personal protection equipment (PPE), hygiene products and even medical equipment. Is this just generous behaviour during this health crisis, or does it mark the beginning of entirely new ways of driving innovation across industry and national boundaries? I expect that we will see some of the collaborative efforts that are playing out now continue in the future, since we need to be better prepared for future pandemics. 

COVID-19’s impact on OI in healthcare 

The complexity and uncertainty of the pandemic highlights the pressing need to formalise new ways of innovating more widely and effectively. Response methods must keep pace as the problems facing organisations and societies become more challenging. In particular, there is likely to be increased need in the future for extreme teaming: that is, cross-sector and cross-national innovation to address major public health challenges. National agencies administering the sector are also opening up their technology and giving intellectual away for free across industries and even national borders—boundaryless OI. Health technology is being used to help patients manage health in ways that don’t require face - to- face meetings. A strategic response to a pandemic requires an unprecedented degree of flexibility—here are some prime examples: 

  • Singapore’s launch of TraceTogether, a mobile contact tracing app based on voluntary public registration which uses Bluetooth to record the close human contacts (within two meters for at least 30 minutes). Singapore has made the source code (installed by more than 620,000 people) freely available to developers around the world. 
  • Sydney scientists’ free online program that trains doctors to spot COVID-19 in computerized tomography (CT) scans of patients’ lungs, enabling them to triage patients more effectively. 

When borders between countries open again, the level of collaboration between public and private sectors, and across national borders must increase to meet not only the current but any future pandemic challenge. There is a pressing need to come together and solve complex problems more rapidly, through open innovation. 

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Dr. Vedrana Savic

Managing Director – Accenture Research

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