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Using tech to deliver quality and affordable healthcare in Asia

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur • 6 min read
Using tech to deliver quality and affordable healthcare in Asia
How should healthcare institutions use technology to raise care quality, and make it more affordable and accessible?
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Covid-19 has exposed gaps and deficiencies in Asia’s healthcare systems. We are seeing hospitals struggling with surging clinical caseloads, and how standards and access to healthcare are unequal across the region.

The strain on healthcare systems is expected to continue as new variants of the coronavirus are found to be highly contagious and likely to be resistant to existing vaccines. Beyond the pandemic, there is also an increasing demand for healthcare as Asia will be home to 60% of the elderly (i.e., those aged over 65) in the world by 2030.

Leveraging technology to boost operational efficiency could raise care quality and make it more affordable. This is why private healthcare provider Health Management International (HMI Group) announced a five-year strategic partnership with medical technology firm Siemens Healthineers in April this year.

Our partnership will accelerate the adoption of connected health to provide faster access to care while building telehealth and predictive analytics capabilities at scale — all of which will go a long way in enhancing our patients’ journey towards a healthier outcome.

Chin Wei Jia, group CEO of HMI Group

HMI Group will invest over $32 million to roll out innovative medical technologies and digitalisation platforms, enhance clinical education and further develop Centres of Excellence (CoEs) in the key clinical areas of cancer, neuroscience and cardiovascular diseases. According to Chin, the investment is a critical component of the group’s ongoing expansion initiatives across StarMed Specialist Centre (StarMed) in Singapore and its tertiary hospitals in Malaysia, namely Mahkota Medical Centre in Malacca and Regency Specialist Hospital in Johor.

StarMed is HMI Group’s one-stop ambulatory care centre that provides health screening, specialist outpatient, medical diagnostics, day surgery, endoscopy and overnight inpatient services. StarMed will deploy a full suite of Siemens Healthineers’ medical technologies to enable fast and accurate screening diagnosis.

StarMed is the very first in Singapore to install the SOMATOM Drive Dual Source CT Scanner. This technology significantly lowers radiation exposure for all patients and is therefore well suited for children, patients requiring multiple follow-up scans, and individuals undergoing health screening.

Meanwhile, Regency Specialist Hospital will install the Varian Truebeam Linear Accelerator in its new cancer centre, which will be completed by 2022. “[The technology will] deliver highly precise, non-invasive cancer treatments that are best tailored for individual conditions, empowering our specialists to treat more challenging cancers such as pancreas, paraspinal, lung, liver, breast and prostate,” shares Chin.

She adds that the group’s healthcare teams will work with Siemens Healthineers to incorporate big data, analytics and digital tools into their operations. By doing so, they can “support more complex conditions with greater precision in diagnosis and intervention to offer individualised treatment with faster turnaround”.

The role of connected systems and data

Advancements in medical technologies present healthcare institutions, like HMI Group, with opportunities to better engage and support patients virtually and in-person at the most appropriate time, place and cost. However, delivering such healthcare services calls for a well-thought-out digital transformation strategy, in which technology is used to improve existing processes and create new value.

As such, Fabrice Leguet, managing director of Siemens Healthineers, Southeast Asia, advises healthcare institutions to ensure that their digital transformation efforts enable them to:

  • Manage data as a strategic asset:
    By integrating data from multiple sources — including wearables, imaging and diagnostic laboratory tools — institutions can gain better insights into clinical and non-clinical processes.
  • Empower data-driven decisions:
    Analytical and artificial intelligence (AI) tools can lead to better decision-making along every step of a patient’s care pathway.
  • Connect care teams and patients:
    As more patients are becoming open to virtual care for non-emergency cases, digital decision support tools like AI should be used to identify candidates for home-based outpatient care more accurately. Home monitoring and secure teleconsultation technology should also be leveraged to enable patients to receive hospital-quality care while at home.
  • Build a learning health system:
    Rigorously measuring and disseminating patient outcomes will serve as the basis for course correction and make it possible to identify and scale the right measures for optimising, expanding and advancing enterprise performance. This way, a true learning health system will be better prepared for both routine care and for extraordinary circumstances such as responding to new viral outbreaks or public health crises.

Since technology is only as good as the user, healthcare institutions also need to train their employees to effectively use digital tools to deliver personalised care. Recognising this, the HMI group provides its “doctors and team members with on-going experiential learning opportunities in [leveraging] new technologies including AI-enabled solutions,” shares Chin.

Partnering to make hybrid care the norm

Hybrid healthcare has been prominent during the pandemic and it is expected to become the new normal. By offering a combination of virtual and in-person health services across the full continuum of care, the hybrid care model can help enhance healthcare accessibility, health outcomes and experience for patients.

See also: Tech news in less than 5 minutes – September 2021

Chin says: “Today’s patients are already demanding for high quality, seamless navigation, faster access, as well as unified in-person and virtual care across different healthcare settings. Healthcare institutions will need to reimagine how to develop higher levels of engagement with patients and their caregivers, and build new connected experiences. There is a real opportunity in designing new patient journeys and driving high quality and personalised care pathways supported by [technologies such as] big data, AI and automation.”

However, creating a healing environment that optimises every patient’s experience while supporting the care team can be a complex undertaking. “Achieving that mission calls for a thorough understanding of an institution’s starting point and situation at hand, the national health economy, and the financial impact of the measures under consideration. It also requires deep expertise in existing digital solutions, implementation and change management,” Leguet explains.

Healthcare institutions can address those requirements more easily by tapping on the planning, implementation and operational capabilities of medical technology (MedTech) consulting partners.

MedTech consultants play pivotal roles from initial feasibility studies and master planning through implementation and ongoing operation and optimisation.

Fabrice Leguet, managing director of Siemens Healthineers, Southeast Asia

MedTech partners, he says, can help healthcare institutions build a high-fidelity digital twin of a facility to test changes to processes and layouts without costly rearrangement of the physical space. “The fidelity of such workflow simulations can be increased by the addition of robust data sources, including real-time data from various assets and entities. [Healthcare institutions can use] the predictive capabilities of workflow simulation to rapidly optimise and validate layouts and workflows,” he adds.

Despite health being a fundamental human right, there is still unequal access to quality and affordable healthcare in the region. According to the OECD health statistics in 2020, there is only one doctor and fewer than two nurses per 1,000 population across the lower-middle and low-income Asia Pacific countries. To reduce the strain on healthcare professionals and meet the increasing demands of an ageing society, healthcare institutions need to strategically leverage technology to enable value-based care, which focuses on improving outcomes, increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

Photo: Unsplash

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