The Spanish Flu of 1918 took a year to infect one-third of the world’s population. But COVID-19 spread to every continent in only a few months. It’s a fact: international travel and growing populations are hastening the spread of disease. That’s not the only change we’ve seen since COVID reared its ugly head in late 2019. The pandemic has also kick-started a world-wide acceleration of digital transformation—an acceleration that’s changing how businesses operate and individuals interact.
Educational institutions have been adopting digital solutions for years now. Universities and colleges add more online courses to their catalogs each semester. And for most children, laptops are now a standard back-to-school item. So, with students stuck at home from the COVID-19 lockdown, online learning solutions became a logical fix for most educators.
Streaming technology, in particular, took a leap forward. Students uncovered their web cameras, took to their mobile devices, and downloaded video streaming software — all to set up virtual classrooms. And educators tapped into every form of streaming content, from podcasts to live webinars. Online education is one reason why the video-conferencing app, Zoom, saw spikes in its stock price during the COVID crisis.
But not everyone is on board with the new digital push in education. Critics point out the common downsides of technology. Over-dependence on tech and the lack of face-to-face interactions are common refrains. There are also concerns around screen time affecting student memory, even though surveys show streaming educational content actually helps with information retention. Despite these worries, schools are dropping analog solutions for good.
The health care section has seen the biggest impact from the COVID-19 crisis. As hospitals and clinics struggle to keep up, administrations have fast-tracked digital technology adoption to ease the pressure. And slow adoption is a problem. Only two-thirds of U.S. CEOs in health care reported having digital components in their pandemic strategic plan, according to a 2019 Price Waterhouse Cooper survey. But recent experience is changing attitudes and practices in the health care sector.
Telemedicine and virtual consultations have become standard practice. Doctors and nurses are using conference calling services to deliver patient care to patients unable or unwilling to leave home. While these remote technologies have been available for years, government regulation around patient privacy has slowed their adoption. Now, the easing of these regulations through congressional emergency authorizations has helped with wider adoption. These measures have also helped expand these technologies into rural areas—places where remote services were limited for Medicare patients. Insurance companies are even paying the same amount for telemedicine appointments as an in-office visit during the pandemic—something that may or may not continue as we continue forward.
Other medical technologies at the forefront of the COVID crisis are electronic prescriptions and patient portals. Doctors using e-scripts can fast-track the delivery of medicines to home-bound patients. And patients can cut down on wait time in crowded emergency rooms. Patient portals are digital platforms that let patients make appointments, order medication refills, or check test results online. Medtech like these will continue to expand post-pandemic, as admins, practitioners, and patients experience their financial and practical rewards.
While at-home work is still a luxury for many firms and employees, the COVID lockdown is expanding access to this benefit. The rise of freelancing and the “gig economy” has made inroads for virtual work within the last decade. And companies forced to go to a remote workforce saw the benefits in downsized office space, lower rents, and cheaper utility bills. Plus, employees enjoy shorter commutes, flexible work hours, and expensive daycare for children.
Once lockdown was in place, popular locales for annual conferences like Las Vegas saw a sharp increase in cancelations. The annual gathering of electronics makers, Mobile World Congress, was the first to scrub the yearly event. These meetings are an integral part of networking and sharing of resources. So organizers and businesses saw the value of investing in digital infrastructure to keep things going. For example, instead of canceling Google’s Cloud Event, the company shifted it to a multi-week, digital event series called Google Cloud Next ‘20: OnAir.
A Future of Adaptability and Innovation
The COVID-19 outbreak has pushed business owners, educators, and health professions to think outside-the-box. And the lesson learned is that the post-pandemic world is not an analog one. And the renewed vigor to adopt technology in the interest of public help will build on itself. That is, the push to innovate will result in better technology that makes virtual interaction an even better alternative for the future.
We’ve already witnessed how quickly we can adapt to change, so it should be no surprise if the future brings us more advanced conferencing and collaborating platforms, more companies with a remote-first emphasis, or modified workdays that allow us to work when, where, and how we want. Our current situation is one that most people in the past thought was only a futuristic dream but has been brought to reality. We’ve gotten the push in the right direction, now we only need to step up and create our own new solutions.
Morgen Henderson is a writer from the beautiful mountains of Utah. She enjoys writing about practical technology application and business topics. When she’s not typing away at her computer, you can find her traveling the world (pre-COVID, of course) and in her kitchen baking. You can check out her social media to see what she’s up to. And read more articles by Morgen on Contently.
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