Healthcare in the APAC region is primed for rapid hyper-digitalisation, according to industry experts at an annual summit organised recently by global video communications platform Zoom.
Held 18 April 2023, the hybrid event featured industry leaders from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), CareSpan Asia, Caring For You, and others, who all agreed that flexibility is essential to help the diverse region forge a future of accessible healthcare.
Digital healthcare in APAC
In addition to exploring today’s digital healthcare in APAC, key priorities came under the spotlight. These included advancing innovation in healthcare and the importance of ramping up the digital transformation of healthcare.
Experts agree that the rapid adoption of technology in healthcare has already achieved multiple changes in processes, mindsets, and priorities for healthcare providers and hospitals in APAC.
Indeed, digital transformation in global healthcare has been an ongoing trend for several years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled multiple spikes in various forms of digital disruption.
In addition, the Asia Pacific (APAC) region is particularly well positioned for digital transformation in healthcare, with a large and growing population, increasing demand for healthcare services, and a strong focus on innovation and technology.
In his keynote, Ricky Kapur, Head of Asia Pacific at Zoom, emphasised the priorities for driving innovation in digital healthcare: “Back in 2019, telehealth was an experimental practice in many countries. COVID-19 came, and, out of necessity, the healthcare business was forced to adapt and adopt digital technologies. Since then, virtual care adoption has increased dramatically and will continue to grow in this region.”
Top of the agenda for healthcare organisations is to simplify and enhance convenience for the patient. “A patient experience goes beyond telehealth and extends to the entire patient journey from triage to post-follow-up procedures,” he said.
Technology used to automate workflows
Technology is ideally used to automate workflows such as connecting patients to the right staff quickly and efficiently, he continued. “Healthcare teams can leverage automated workflows and intelligent skills-based routing to match the patient with a qualified staff quickly and efficiently to receive timely care. Technology solutions like Zoom Virtual Agent, for example, will help collect patient data before being passed on to a live agent.”
Another agenda item for leaders is to reduce the increasing costs of healthcare. Certainly, digitalisation can help bring down non-essential visits. He cited examples such as the automated dispensation of medication, the booking of appointments, and using remote monitoring for patients with chronic diseases.
He said some of the potential outcomes include reduced costs, which could be passed on to the patient, and a more efficient healthcare system to cope with burnout and staff shortages. Virtual technologies can also help healthcare workers connect and communicate with their colleagues and peers, attend medical training, and oversee surgery procedures, overcoming geographical constraints.
Accessibility for patient care is the third priority, Ricky said. This entails dealing with geographic and financial concerns, especially for low-income groups.
Giving further examples, he detailed how Philippines-based digital healthcare platform CareSpan adopted Zoom’s Video SDK in its Electronic Medical Records (EMR) platform to deliver quality video consultations in both high and low speed internet environments – many of these rural areas.
“Hybrid models of care that offer both online and offline options will become the core delivery model for healthcare organisations in the near future,” said Ricky, adding that patients now call for greater flexibility in how they consume their healthcare.
The next big ripple
Continuing the analysis of a dynamic healthcare sector in the region, Sash Mukherjee, vice president of content and principal analyst, Ecosystm, mindsets and healthcare systems have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic years.
“We have achieved a lot in the last few years, and what happened in the years 2020-2022 with the pandemic was the biggest ripple we have seen. But we have to prepare for the next big crisis,” she said in her keynote.
The surge in the use of telemedicine in particular, has buoyed Zoom as a platform to deliver virtual healthcare into a lead position, said Sash.
She listed data points that showed disparities throughout countries in the region. Among these, annual per capita spend on healthcare varied from US$64 to US$5400.
In the same period, she noted increasing prioritisation in three areas by healthcare organisations due to the pandemic: employee productivity (up 29%), reducing costs (33%), encouraging and reducing innovation cycles (53%). She commented that supply chain innovation was also moving up the agenda.
Some priorities reduced
Meanwhile, other priorities seem to have reduced. She said that compliance with regulations (reduced by 43%), increasing business agility (also reduced by 43%), and improving patient experiences (reduced by 24%).
In the midst of the pandemic, another analyst, McKinsey, also confirmed five shifts in the middle of the pandemic era that are driving healthcare to become more sustainable, scalable and personalised. In common with other regions, Asia Pacific, these five forces are:
- Aging population: By 2025, Asia will have 456 million seniors age 65 or older, which is some 10% of its population
- Supply constraints: With the exception of three countries in the region, the average number of doctors per 1,000 people in Asia, lower than the OECD average.
- Rising consumer expectations: Consumers are spending more on health and wellness and demand greater access to convenient, affordable care.
- Growing financial burden: In 2021, governments in Asia, on average, were spending just 4.5% of GDP on healthcare, compared to an OECD average of 12%.
- Technological innovation: With half the world’s internet users, Asia leads digital innovation worldwide in various sectors.
Furthermore, Sash said that the rise in technology-empowered solutions in the last two years suggests that organisations are looking at systemic innovation to prepare for the future.
Closing the gaps
One of the key challenges in APAC is the lack of healthcare access and chronic disease management across the entire population.
Governments are under pressure to achieve universal and equitable healthcare for all, regardless of social and financial status or location.
At the same time, patient expectations have evolved, with patients now being seen as “consumers of healthcare services” who want to access healthcare in their own space, time, and convenience.
As such, operational efficiency becomes crucial for healthcare providers with limited resources to deliver the best healthcare outcomes for their patients. Collaborative care becomes critical, requiring healthcare providers to work together, enabled by technology.
“A full view of data helps deliver the right care by the right people at the right time,” Sash said.
Defining collaborative care means that healthcare organisations must build decentralisation into their culture (allowing people to receive healthcare remotely); cutting down the use of unnecessary resources (rooms)
Ask whether a digital interaction can replace each physical interaction. A hybrid model includes an initial physical interaction followed by a digital-first approach, with healthcare delivered virtually.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the willingness of patients and clinicians to participate – and they will only do this if they see real value in collaborative care.
The technology should be easy to use for clinicians and not complicate their already busy day.
Building healthcare equity
The event also featured a panel discussion featuring Zoom customers from Singapore General Hospital/ SingHealth Group Nursing (Singapore’s largest healthcare group, which includes Singapore General Hospital), CareSpan Asia (healthcare technology company based in the Philippines), and Caring For You (Australia’s largest and leading service provider of nursing personnel). The panellists discussed the challenges and opportunities offered by technology for the industry and how their organisations have sought to reimagine the way they work.
The panellists agreed that the healthcare industry could benefit from a hybrid work model that combines virtual and on-site care, such as telehealth appointments and flexible work arrangements for healthcare professionals.
Torben Wick, business analyst at Caring For You, said that the adoption of technologies like Zoom Phone and, most recently, Zoom Contact Centre was especially crucial in helping them communicate with customers and members across localities. He noted that leveraging Zoom had helped Caring For You to scale quickly, allowing the company to reach 33,000 calls a week.
In a previous article late last year outlining the story of Zoom Phone in the region, analyst reports confirmed the increasing use of such unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solutions, with affordability as one of the key drivers. A Transparency Market Research report noted the global market in 2021 was valued at US$44.88 billion, which is expected to grow a CAGR of 15.3% from 2022 to 2031, possibly reaching US$ 161.67 billion by the end of 2031.
Ending healthcare poverty
Nonoy Colayco, chairman of CareSpan Asia, highlighted that ending healthcare poverty begins with affordable healthcare technology. One of the biggest public health challenges facing the Philippines, he noted, is the accessibility of network connectivity across the country market. Having a digital integrated care platform that is stable and works under low bandwidth environments is central to providing patients with both remote and in-person access to primary care at low cost. In addition, the shift towards virtual care and technology in healthcare has led to a need for low-touch technology that is easy to use and improves workflow efficiency. This allows healthcare professionals to spend more time on high-touch patient care.
Ang Shin Yuh, deputy director of Nursing Research, Transformation and Informatics at Singapore General Hospital and SingHealth Group Nursing, said that with Singapore being a small nation, its biggest challenge moving forward is an insufficiency of healthcare workers and resources. Patients and family members thus need to be empowered and take on a more active role in their own care and treatment. “It is then about how we can use technology to make it affordable and, more importantly, available to a large majority so that we can sustain the standard of healthcare for years to come,” added Ang.
Unique country markets
While each country’s market may face unique challenges in healthcare, such as the shortage of skilled healthcare workers in the Philippines and getting new funding to support new government mandates in Australia, technology and innovation will ultimately be key in addressing these challenges.
Amelia Eudailey, global healthcare industry manager, Zoom, said: Hyper digitalisation of healthcare is creating exciting opportunities for healthcare providers to innovate and improve on patient care.
Echoing the message covered in a previous article, How Asia can Zoom through the era of flexibility, Amelia noted: “One core theme that we keep going back to at Zoom is flexibility,” she said, adding that the company helps create “a continuum of care in a hybrid environment. For both healthcare providers and their patients, the flexibility and ability to connect anywhere have become an expectation. Zoom can help overcome limits of distance and location to give people greater access to the healthcare they need.”
“It is one comprehensive platform, which simplifies virtual care from care to delivery, to patient education, and embraces the business of healthcare, of learning, sharing consultations with medical experts around the world.”
A variety of solutions
The platform offers a variety of solutions, including team chat, phone, smart conference rooms, events, contact centres, and more. “Zoom’s vision for healthcare is to help healthcare and life science organisations innovate and collaborate through frictionless communication, regardless of their location, to focus on making breakthrough advancements in care delivery, patient outcomes, and drug discovery.”
To demonstrate the company’s commitment to the healthcare industry, Amelia shared a few statistics, such as having over 100 core team members dedicated to healthcare and industry partnerships, such as its acceleration programme in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand last year.
The company’s full collaboration platform, which includes Zoom One, a bundling service for all core solutions, such as phone meetings, Zoom team chat, whiteboard, and webinar, and Zoom spaces, which provides a state-of-the-art experience on-site for healthcare workers and administrative staff. Zoom has signed more than 35,000 business associate agreements to ensure HIPAA compliance needs for healthcare organisations, and the company serves 9 of the 10 top healthcare centres in North America and seven of the top global pharmaceutical companies across the world.
Another use case example was illustrated by Joe Francis, senior product owner collaboration services, at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Singapore. He detailed how GSK is supporting its hybrid, distributed workforce with a Zoom-connected communications platform. He said that thus far, the outcomes include enhanced collaboration and experience, resulting in greater increased productivity and ‘happier’ employees.
Speaking to the overall ecosystem, Sash Mukherjee delved further into how the rapid adoption of technology in healthcare has led to changes in processes, in the mindsets of clinicians and administrative staff, as well as priorities that healthcare providers and hospitals now have.
Energising the ecosystem
As mentioned earlier, raising employee productivity, reducing costs and driving innovation are now focus areas for healthcare providers.
This is important for the future of healthcare as a lack of healthcare access and chronic disease management across the entire population remain a challenge for many APAC markets.
She said governments are under pressure to achieve universal and equitable healthcare for all, regardless of social and financial status or location.
“Meanwhile, patient expectations have evolved. Providers have to look at patients as ‘consumers of healthcare services’ who want to access healthcare in their own space, time and at their convenience.”
Operational efficiency is about getting the best from limited resources, and so delivering the best healthcare outcomes is coupled with collaborative care becoming increasingly critical.
On a broader level, despite the advances made in healthcare digital transformation, there are still some hurdles to face. One of these is the lack of interoperability between different healthcare systems and platforms. To address this challenge, several countries in APAC, including Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, are working to develop interoperability standards and frameworks.
Another significant challenge is cybersecurity, with the growing use of digital health platforms and the increasing amount of healthcare data being generated and shared. To address this challenge, several countries in APAC, including Malaysia and Singapore, have developed cybersecurity frameworks and strategies for healthcare.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing healthcare providers to shift towards telemedicine, Zoom was one of the leading tools for virtual consultations. In Malaysia, the Ministry of Health used Zoom to launch a virtual health advisory service that connects the public with healthcare professionals for COVID-19-related consultations. Similarly, in Singapore, the National University Hospital (NUH) uses Zoom to provide teleconsultations to patients who are unable to visit the hospital due to the pandemic.
Another example is the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, which is using Zoom to conduct virtual multidisciplinary team meetings, which allow healthcare professionals to collaborate and discuss patient cases in real time. In Japan, the Japan Medical Association (JMA) is using Zoom to host webinars and training sessions for healthcare professionals, which enables them to stay up-to-date with the latest medical advances and practices.
AI & ML
Another key driver of healthcare digital transformation in APAC is the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in healthcare. AI and ML can be used to analyse vast amounts of data, such as medical records, imaging data, and genomics data, to identify patterns and make predictions about patient outcomes. This can help to improve diagnosis, treatment, and patient outcomes.
Several APAC countries are already investing heavily in AI and ML for healthcare. For example, in Singapore, the government has launched several initiatives to promote the use of AI in healthcare, such as the National AI Office and the Health and Biomedical Data Science Program. In China, companies such as Ping An Good Doctor and Tencent are using AI to develop digital health platforms that provide personalized healthcare services to users.
The adoption of telemedicine has also been accelerated by the development of 5G networks, which offer faster and more reliable connectivity. 5G networks are being rolled out across APAC, with several countries, including China, South Korea, and Japan, already leading the way in terms of adoption.
Taking Malaysia as an example, we note that during Telekom Malaysia’s business solutions arm TM One’s flagship event LEAP Summit 2022, Shazurawati Abd Karim, TM One executive vice president, said the core of a digital economy is data, and the emergence of 5G will help bring faster throughput in real time right to the computing edge. Benefits include real-time detection, near-instant analysis and action resulting in enhanced safety, reduced down-times, and the ability to scale up at speed.
Last year, to accelerate 5G adoption by enterprise and public sectors, TM One launched TM One 5G Sphere programme. Buoyed by TM One’s circle of industry ecosystem partners, smart solution and technology partners with 37 partners at launch time), the emphasis is on empowering transformation by leveraging enhanced connectivity.
“The next phase of smart, innovative transformation will be 5G-driven opportunities, with capabilities such as video monitoring, logistics, fleet management, and private 5G networks powering manufacturing, transport, factories, and campuses already on the horizon.”
Benefits of real-time data for healthcare
The benefits of real-time data for healthcare include connected ambulances, remote medical consultations, conducting robot-assisted telesurgery with greater precision, flexibility and control, remote patient monitoring, and AR/VR medical training, among others.
One example of a collaborative initiative with industry was at the 5G in Healthcare Symposium earlier this year. Organised by the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM), TM One showcased some of these possibilities – including a HoloLens demonstration, which utilises mixed reality experiences with 3D data processing, analytics, visualisation and simulation applications.
“TM One has already conducted and demonstrated many successful 5G service and use case trials,” said Shazurawati at the time. “Currently, we are rolling out further key 5G projects for various enterprises. Together with our extensive ecosystem of partnerships, which includes global technology companies as well as leading local companies, we are primed and ready to embrace the highly effective path of co-creation of solutions and services with Malaysia’s private hospitals.”
Although this column has touched on just one or two factors, it is apparent that the APAC region is well positioned for healthcare digital transformation in 2023, with several countries making significant progress in implementing telemedicine and adopting artificial intelligence AI and ML-driven tools in healthcare. Despite challenges arising from a fragile global economy, there are significant opportunities to drive healthcare transformation in the region.