Although the COVID-19 crisis continues to highlight the importance of resilient digital infrastructures, trust may be a fundamental factor driving the transformation of healthcare in Asia.
Like many other sectors, the restrictions on mobility due to various lockdowns have fuelled a surge in digitalisation to meet healthcare demands and support treatments. The trend towards increased digitalisation, buoyed by frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), is also confirmed by multiple analysts.
A recent report notes that 65% of hospitals across APAC are increasing spending on digitalisation. On a global level, the digital health market, valued at US$96.5 billion last year, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.1% from 2021 to 2028, according to one US industry study.
For further insights, Disruptive.Asia talked with Woon Shung Toon, CEO of GetDoc and Founder of the Jireh Group, which incubates and launches digital health and blockchain initiatives in the region. With a background in data analytics, IT and business intelligence, he has a keen interest in emerging technologies, particularly in the health domain.
Speaking on COVID’s impact on healthcare stakeholders, Shung Toon said: “COVID-19 has an unprecedented, profound, and lasting impact on all aspects of the global economy and especially in healthcare. From now until the near future, we may expect accelerated reliance on digital infrastructure to deliver healthcare and a higher willingness to adopt digital solutions.”
Indeed, a robust health ecosystem platform offers an array of benefits: information platforms, data collection technology, market intermediaries, services for remote and on-demand healthcare, personalised healthcare model, cloud service provider, and intelligent data analysis for the healthcare provider.
These will transform value proposition, value capture, and value delivery in the healthcare industry, says Shung Toon.
In an increasingly connected healthcare system, healthcare policymakers are prioritising the creation of common working frameworks on how health data is managed, accessed, and moved without infringing on data privacy requirements.
Milestones in the new normal
Shung Toon detailed various milestones as examples: GetDoc recently partnered with the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) on a research study in Artificial Intelligence (AI) fundus eye imaging, a new technology to help detect major eye conditions that can lead to blindness. Fundus imaging is also a non-invasive screening method to reveal the risk of coronary artery disease that may lead to stroke or heart attack.
In Malaysia, AstraZeneca recently collaborated with GetDoc to drive awareness and impart new insights on asthma care to doctors and healthcare professionals, in addition to community outreach.
“In addition, we continue to engage with the community to advance and offer concession healthcare to our users with the objective to make healthcare affordable for everyone through our GetDocPlus program,” he said. “We will also subsequently be introducing more concession initiatives in our radiology clinics and eye health to encourage users to take better care.”
“One of the most notable digitalisation milestones for us at Jireh Group is us venturing into deploying blockchain technology and teleradiology into our healthcare solutions,” continued Shung Toon.
Blockchain has several groundbreaking applications in healthcare systems, he said. “Today’s barriers to higher adoption of digital solutions such as electronic medical records (EMR) lie in security and operability. Blockchain technology provides efficient and viable solutions to these two problems.”
Integrating blockchain technology improves the overall security of patients’ electronic medical records and helps resolve drug authenticity and supply chain traceability issues. In addition, the application of blockchain enables secure interoperability between healthcare organisations.
“The next step for us is to look into leveraging AI in our healthcare technology,” Shung Toon said. “AI has many key applications in supporting clinical decision of diagnosis, treatment planning and population health management.”
For example, AI techniques are currently being trialled as intelligent imaging solutions in the fight against COVID-19 and other viral diseases – to assist doctors in diagnosing from X-ray and CT scans of the lungs, together with experts’ observations, for timely treatment.
A string of positive disruptions
From Shung Toon’s company’s perspective, healthcare has seen a string of positive disruptions. One example is the “welcome convenience of using a digital tool to connect with clinics, book appointments and make payments. Users can now use GetDoc for telemedicine consultations, a demand which expanded during COVID-19 pandemic”.
“Apart from issues related to the pandemic, we are also continuing to partner and collaborate with various pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to accelerate education and awareness of other health-related topics,” he says.
“Another example of positive disruption is the launch of the eLOG (e-Letter of Guarantee) portal coupled with a secure endpoint access device for use by all hospitals in Singapore. It was timely to launch this just months prior to the pandemic as this helps to ease the administration in the hospital admission room, allowing quicker admissions for policyholders.”
“Imaging clinics using our TeleRad platform see certain physical processes converting to digital, for example instead of carrying X-Ray films or media, digital files are securely shared virtually, helping specialists to work remotely, reporting results quickly helping referring physicians to complete their diagnosis faster, and initiate treatment earlier,” he said.
Looking ahead, Shung Toon said the Jireh Group is set to harness the power of blockchain technology to pilot patient-centric digital solutions to deliver more targeted, person-centred effective and efficient healthcare, enabling better ownership of health data and reducing errors.
This approach has the potential to substantially improve communication in healthcare, enabling authorized stakeholders to gain immediate access to patient health data in real-time in a secure environment. “Patients can control, maintain and own their data, and share that data with their doctors.”
Using a secured provider-patient system to manage care delivery, particularly in cases of chronic disease, should produce better health outcomes at lower cost, greater efficiency, and lead to enhanced productivity.
Faced with mounting demands arising from the pandemic, health leaders aim to increase productivity and quality by turning to digital avenues.
Shung Toon belies that: “First and foremost, leaders need to develop a coherent evaluation to demonstrate that what the benefits of innovative digital solutions represent can be achieved.”
“Solutions which are designed purposefully and implemented in a cost-effective way are likely to provide better health outcomes and contribute to the sustainability of health systems,” he said. “In this context, there should be enough justification to show that the benefits of the process of digitalisation outweigh the associated costs.”
Secondly, he advocates creating the right environment to enable more successful adoption and implementation of new digital health services.
This relates not only to the attitudes and training of citizens, patients and professionals but also to overcoming organisational and financial barriers in adopting new technologies.
“Thirdly, allow and support decentralised/local level decision-making. Much of the innovations are conceived and adopted into the health system through lower-level decision-making,” he said.
“Going forward, technology and digital solutions will be essential to manage healthcare delivery. Two main innovations that healthcare leaders should focus on are artificial intelligence and insights from data analytics to better manage healthcare.”
The way forward
The region’s high mobile penetration rates and pandemic-enforced digitalisation of healthcare and delivery could also help augment talent shortage. Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that South Asia averages 0.8 physicians for every 1,000 people, while the European Union (EU), for instance, has an average of 3.7.
“Digital transformation requires talent – and the right talent,” he elaborates. “Indeed, assembling the right team of people working together with technology, domain knowledge, data, and process is key.”
“Notwithstanding that this combination is a rare find, it is the most important starting point for transformation, where a joint interaction of tools, processes, power and people take place.”
“Looking ahead, I envision there may be more changes in the dynamics of processes within the patientcare value chain. Healthcare practitioners will need to appreciate how the new value streams help practitioners better understand and serve patients more efficiently, ease decision making and enhance patient interactions.”
More public-private partnerships within the healthcare ecosystem between various stakeholders – such as hospitals, health insurance, health-tech providers – need to collaborate to drive a shift toward digital healthcare delivery.
“The key challenge in embracing digital health services is trust,” he said. “Users and medical professionals need to be able to trust that the medical information they put on a digital platform will be stored and remain secure and will not be used maliciously or against them in a future event.”
He explains that data needs to be stored and managed securely for patients to make better and informed decisions. “Clinic practitioners need to be able to trust that digital platforms providers will manage their business data as if their lives depended on it and to ensure that the data will not be shared without their prior consent.”
The way forward includes enhancing trust by balancing concerns connected to patient privacy, the interoperability of digital health solutions, and well-managed transitioning to distance treatments where appropriate.”For the patient, digitalisation is an enabler,” Shung Toon concludes. “It is about empowering the patient. The patient is empowered to take ownership and take charge of one’s health, having the accessibility and connectivity to their healthcare providers, enjoying convenience and a better healthcare experience.
This article is published on Disruptive.Asia: https://disruptive.asia/positively-disrupting-healthcare-in-asia-ceo-interview/