Has the pandemic been a boon or bane for the digital healthcare industry?

Has the pandemic been a boon or bane for the digital healthcare industry?

The pandemic has caused disruptions in healthcare and accelerated tech adoption across the region, at times forcing services to be available digitally. How has digitalisation impacted medical staff and patients, and how ready is the industry to embrace change?

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We have seen a transformation in the healthcare industry where emerging technologies are now actively integrated into the daily operations and delivery of patient care. However these changes have at the same time created challenges that range from the lack of willingness to change to connectivity woes as well as data security concerns.

iTNews Asia finds out from three speakers taking part in the upcoming Digital Healthcare 2022 conference about the developments driving digital healthcare and the critical role that technology plays in supporting this transformation.

Sharing their inputs are

  • Adam Chee, Chief, Smart Health Leadership Centre, Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore
  • Dini Handayani, CEO, Medistra Hospital, Indonesia
  • Derrick Chan, Chief Executive Officer, Sunway Medical Centre Velocity, Malaysia

iTNews Asia: What is the current status of digital healthcare today, and what do you see as the issues and challenges the industry faces?

Chee: The current status of digital healthcare can be best described as being in a constant state of flux. Most digital health solutions being considered and/or adopted today focuses only on a departmental level, and this limits the potential of digital health as an enabler to transform the delivery of health and healthcare services to our intended population.

It is important to understand that healthcare systems in general are extremely complex yet adaptive with numerous “moving parts” that serves a wide range of stakeholders.

A simplified explanation for the presence of such intricacies in healthcare systems lies in the fact that in order to provide patient-centered care, one needs to address all aspects of the patients’ physical, mental and social health, and this has proven to be extremely challenging from both the care coordination perspective as well as collecting relevant data to ensure evidence-based care.

Handayani: Change in digital healthcare is inevitable. We could not live without it and we were forced to develop our digital platform rapidly in order to harmoniously adapt and deliver our service remotely to the patient.

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Health has just launched the free telemedicine and pharmacy service nationwide to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia.

Some of the challenges faced are :

  • Not everyone being attuned to gadgets
  • Limited internet availability/high bandwidth network in the rural areas
  • Regulations to support electronic medical records (in Indonesia)

Chan: The healthcare ecosystem is already moving towards digitisation – albeit at a slower pace due to inertia faced by many organisations. The pandemic gave the digitisation effort a big push.

During the pandemic, initiatives that reduce physical touch points are welcomed. Concepts such as teleconsultations and telehealth are put into actual practice and has gained traction. Smart hospital concepts such as remote monitoring, online pre-arrival registration and queue systems, medicine delivery and purchase – all help to keep the patients time spent at the premises to a minimum. This helps to limit the potential of cross infection within the hospitals and ensures the safety of patients and staff.

The issues and challenges seen in healthcare include: 

  1. Cyber Security 
    • Hackers attacking health system;
    • Ransomware – Locking of information and demanding high prices
  2. PDPA – Sharing or disclosing personal health data of patients 

Change in digital healthcare is inevitable. We could not live without it and we were forced to develop our digital platform rapidly in order to harmoniously adapt and deliver our service remotely to the patient.

Dini Handayani, CEO, Medistra Hospital, Indonesia

iTNews Asia: How has the pandemic impacted digital healthcare? Has it accelerated the move to using emerging technologies (such as IoT, AI, ML, cloud)?

Chee: The pandemic has no doubt further accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare, serving as a springboard for healthcare systems to adopt and utilise digital health technologies that was previously given less attention due to unfavourable policies.

The only real barriers towards widespread adoption were the lack of suitable reimbursement models, and in some areas – the availability of alternatives (e.g. in Singapore, General Practitioner clinics are easily available to patients around the clock). Both factors bred negative inertia – there simply wasn’t any reason to utilise TeleHealth on a wide-scale basis.

The pandemic however, created a situation where there simply were not sufficient resources – such as physical space and qualified health professionals – for non-COVID-19 patients to receive the required healthcare services. This placed a sudden emphasis and demand to quickly test and pilot digital health solutions to help bridge the gaps in their delivery of care.

As the saying goes, “there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle”. Once key decision makers realised the benefits and potential of digital healthcare, they start reimagining new models of care with digital healthcare as a key proponent to better integrate and deliver health services.

Handayani: The pandemic has accelerated an immense growth in digital healthcare in a way that we could not imagine before. The situation forced hospital and healthcare to adapt new and emerging technology such as IoT, AI, cloud based and such.

IoT was developed for health screenings, health checks and health records amongst patients and hospital staff. This includes body temperature screening, telemedicine, sensors for medical and non-medical gadgets, and sensor access for hospital staff and others. 

AI and ML Technology were developed for COVID-19 examinations and some clinical treatments to get a better understanding of the virus, and develop a new strategy to combat the pandemic.

Cloud based was developed for data collection and analysis for all of AI, ML and IoT development in hospital.

The pandemic however, created a situation where there simply were not sufficient resources – such as physical space and qualified health professionals – for non-COVID-19 patients to receive the required healthcare services. This placed a sudden emphasis and demand to quickly test and pilot digital health solutions to help bridge the gaps in their delivery of care.

- Adam Chee, Chief, Smart Health Leadership Centre, Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore

Chan: The pandemic brought to fore the need to accelerate digitisation. New technologies such as IoT, and cloud storage and access makes the whole new world of healthcare digitisation possible. 

Smart Devices such as smart watches leverage on the technology embedded into the watch for health analysis such as ECG, SPO2 etc. With the long history of big data analytics in cloud and knowledge from expert system integration, common cases like heart attacks could be prevented or pre-warned thru the smart watch before the patient collapses.

Another typical example of digital healthcare today utilises big data analytics with cloud; the MySejahtera app boasts a collection of health information, populates and generates useful daily reporting on Covid19 cases.

iTNews Asia: In healthcare, seamless high bandwidth network connectivity is essential. A connectivity failure can have huge implications. Do you think the improvement in network connectivity today has enabled the ICT infrastructure to be robust enough for patient safety? Would 5G further accelerate this change?

Chee: High bandwidth has always been an essential element where uninterrupted communications is crucial; healthcare is no different from other industries with regard to this aspect. The difference, however, would be the potential and possibilities in changing the delivery of care with the advent of high-speed technologies like 5G.

Take for example, with seamless connectivity guaranteed by 5G, one can enable real-time bi-directional exchange of health data from an ambulance in an emergency case. This includes both past medical records as well as newly acquired clinical data from the patient while paramedics are performing interventions. Such a simple “tweak” can result in drastic workflow improvement, not to mention patient care.

Going along this train of thought, it is easy for one to start reimagining the possibilities. Suddenly real-time remote surgery, high fidelity tele-consultations etc. don’t seem so far-fetched! The limitations – assuming policies and cost are non-issues – really lies in how innovative health systems strives to be.

Network bandwidth and connectivity is vital. This also serves as communications and links to all points, from the devices to the systems, from the systems to the healthcare staff as well as to the customers and patients.

Should any part of this infrastructure be disrupted, it will have a huge impact on the systems.

- Derrick Chan, Chief Executive Officer, Sunway Medical Centre Velocity, Malaysia

Handayani: So far, the connectivity using 3G and 4G have been fine. However if we could have the opportunity to use 5G, that would be a great support to accelerate and improve connectivity.

My concern for the digital healthcare and ICT will be the data security. From my experience, as the information goes global in between countries, few platforms can guarantee the data security – especially when the data will be used for further research and analysis.

The most important thing is the use of patient records as the database, and this process will need to be standardised for future development in digital technology.

Another concern is managing patient safety for each equipment, and in mobile or online application use. Some of the potential patient safety risks by using digital technology in providing patient care include:

  • Patient identification risks
  • Documentation risks as the medical record is not always available onsite or connected through e-medical records
  • Communication risks
  • Medication management risks
  • Technology and security risks
  • Protection of patient right risks (Example: Using digital signatures for consent, data confidentiality, etc. )
  • Staff qualification risks
  • Remote monitoring system and emergency response

Chan: Network bandwidth and connectivity is vital. This also serves as communications and links to all points, from the devices to the systems, from the systems to the healthcare staff as well as to the customers and patients.

Should any part of this infrastructure be disrupted, it will have a huge impact on the systems. Working fast and furious is the critical success factor in healthcare system, from the point of analytics to treatment.

Typical cases, such as stroke treatment, would require information to be processed promptly and accurately for quick decision making by clinicians to introduce a higher effective treatment to save a patient life.

5G technology will definitely help with the speed of accessing the information, especially retrieving and analysing big data in a shorter time. The ability to send and receive huge amounts of data in real time will be useful for healthcare as it makes decision making in real time, as well as remote surgery, possible.

One of the issues with remote assessment of cases however, is the clarity of the images that are sent and its accessibility for consultants in a remote location. With 5G, the images and video can be very clear, making assessments possible.

With better data, we can also look forward to more innovative ideas such as remote control of medical equipment. This greatly reduces the skilled manpower constraints faced by many countries, especially those that have medical facilities in the outskirt.

 

Digital Healthcare 2022 is happening on 22-23 March 2022. More information can be found here.

To reach the editorial team on your feedback, story ideas and pitches, contact them here.
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