Covid-19 shook the world like nothing else in recent history. Every industry felt its impact, but the healthcare sector was stretched well beyond capacity. Technology, however, once again proved to be a great enabler. It has allowed many patients to interact with their doctors and follow treatments from the safety of their homes. Similarly, it has enabled hospitals and clinics to function in a lean way and reduce patients’ exposure to the virus.
Even before the pandemic struck, efforts to integrate technology into healthcare were already underway and consumers were already showing strong interest in various virtual health services. The Accenture 2020 Digital Health Consumer Survey found that 62% of consumers would choose virtual for health and wellness advisories.
Covid-19 has certainly increased the uptake of digital healthcare solutions. Crises like this are likely to repeat, and healthcare systems across the world can only respond effectively by becoming more resilient. Healthcare institutions can start their journey towards greater resilience by leveraging digital solutions.
HealthTech is more than just telemedicine
HealthTech is the fastest-growing vertical within the healthcare sector, and the pandemic has only further accelerated its growth. However, it is important to understand that HealthTech is much more than just telemedicine. It encompasses a suite of services using digital tools — such as data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence — to deliver more efficient and accurate healthcare services.
For instance, some healthcare providers are using a platform featuring an intelligent claims management system that analyses various things like the restrictions on medications – from generic to branded medicines – based on the patient’s records and classifies different procedures and fee charges. With such an integrated system, those healthcare institutions can easily and quickly gain a more comprehensive understanding of their patients to administer the appropriate treatment or direct them to the right hospital almost instantly.
Taking it a step further, some integrated digital healthcare platforms can show the different surgical procedures and hospitals available based on the patient’s insurance coverage or employment benefits, and even suggest alternative countries where the treatment is more cost-effective.
Additionally, HealthTech can help automate manual processes such as matching patients with medical providers based on the specified parameters, fixing appointments for patients, and restocking and procurement of medications. This allows healthcare providers to save time on tedious and time-consuming processes and focus on what they do best: treat patients in person or virtually.
Personalised digital healthcare will grow
Apart from Singapore, where there is a clinic within every five-kilometre radius, there lies much more opportunities to help people through digital healthcare across the region. Digital healthcare can disrupt a costing model, the treatment and the analysis model. This can also lead to better treatment plans than what patients are currently receiving. Mainly, HealthTech helps to expand the reach to more people and provides them with better-guided healthcare at cheaper price points.
Many patients in Asia are still practising self-medication today. This is a cause for concern as they may wrongly self-diagnose their symptoms based on possibly unverified information online and therefore follow the wrong treatment plans. Moreover, fraudulent medications are rampant in the region. To combat this, Kent Ridge Health is trying to put information onto a blockchain to give patients better access and clarity on official sources to obtain the correct treatment plans and quality medical care at a fraction of the cost they currently pay.
HealthTech also enables healthcare providers to continue delivering personalised care even when patients are unable to physically visit clinics and hospitals. During the Covid-19 circuit breaker period, only those with serious conditions were allowed to visit healthcare facilities while others were told to use teleconsultation. Teleconsultation enabled healthcare professionals to devise chronic treatment plans, inform patients about their medications, and demonstrate rehabilitation or physiotherapy exercises remotely.
Despite its advantages, HealthTech has yet to be widely embraced by healthcare institutions in the region. While many clinics in Singapore are already using digital platforms, this is not the case in Malaysia and Indonesia, for example.
To reap the full benefits of HealthTech, healthcare providers should partner with firms that offer plug-and- play solutions or allow custom-made software to integrate with their systems, perhaps through application programming interfaces. They should also find a partner with sufficient expertise to ensure a smooth adoption or integration of IT solutions.
The future of digital healthcare
The nature and demand for healthcare is continuously changing. This calls for healthcare services to evolve to keep up with changing demographic patterns and new diseases. The shift is already driving a change in healthcare to one that is more digital and personalised. There is also greater understanding and awareness of HealthTech. As preventive care gains popularity across the world, personalised digital healthcare will grow too.
Covid-19 has been a wake-up call. Healthcare has not changed for about 30 to 40 years now. But the pandemic pushed many consumers to use digital platforms to receive healthcare services — be it regular consultations or more novel treatments. This further strengthens the case for HealthTech, which I believe will become more popular and widely accepted in the future.
One can already see change. In the past, people using digital health services were aged between 20 and 50. But as digital apps have proliferated across societies — from grocery and food ordering to ride-hailing — even people in their 70s are getting increasingly comfortable using digital healthcare services.
Technology in healthcare is evolving quickly, from Internet of Things (IoT) devices and wearables to remote Intensive Care Units (ICUs). HealthTech has given consumers much better and quicker access to healthcare, and the HealthTech revolution is well underway in Asia and beyond.
Dr Kelvin Chen is the co-founder and CEO of Kent Ridge Health