Much has been said about the way COVID-19, the biggest global health crisis in a century, has changed business. Not surprisingly, the change in healthcare itself has been profound.
Telehealth visits have skyrocketed globally since the pandemic began, and patients now want providers to offer more "digital front doors” to monitor their health.
As the most populated region in the world, Asia Pacific is witnessing first-hand this incredible growth in trust and optimism for digital healthcare. VMware’s Digital Frontiers 3.0 Healthcare Study showed that in local regions like Southeast Asia, two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents now prefer remote video calls with medical professionals over face-to-face consultations. Because of lockdowns and other restrictions, health providers have finally begun to use digital services to fulfill potential that has been flagged for decades.
“Dr. Google” and Informed Patients
At VMworld 2021, I enjoyed listening to Armin de Greiff, Head of IT at University Hospital Essen — Germany’s first “smart hospital” — provide insight into what has been driving the big changes in global healthcare (on-demand here).
De Greiff says today’s patients are “informed patients,” arriving at their consultations with opinions on symptoms and treatments based on their own research, often conducted with the help of “Dr. Google.”
This changes expectations. Medical data used to be gathered by clinicians on pieces of paper. But now the patient comes with their own online research and an expectation it will be factored into their care.
If today’s digital-first patients are turning to online resources for fast and trusted responses to their health problems, there is an opportunity for healthcare providers.
Malaysia’s Sunway Medical Centre (SMC) is one provider already leaning into this trend. After establishing the country’s first 24-hour Telemedicine Command Centre, patients can now access professional care at all times from the comfort of their homes.
SMC has been on a journey to integrate its IT systems so patients can easily and securely access their own records. Most importantly, it’s ensured patient privacy is kept front and center.
Medical facilities that want to access patient information must seek the patient’s approval first, giving patients the power to choose what information is shared or withheld.
Technology also helped healthcare providers in our region manage the heavy demand for health services during COVID-19. With many patients unable to visit hospitals, Ramsay Sime Darby Health Care (RSDH) introduced Telehealth Plus in Malaysia to enable follow-up consultations via video. Patients, who have already had an in-person consultation, could access timely advice through a laptop or mobile device from a variety of health specialists.
The pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of digital tools in delivering public healthcare. For example, Singapore’s technology agency for public healthcare, Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), developed new care models during the pandemic by leveraging technology as a “workforce multiplier.” New methods of doctor-patient consultations through digital channels were developed, empowering patients to be actively involved in their healthcare.
With 49 percent of Singaporean respondents in the Frontiers 3.0 study stating the government now delivers better digital experiences, including public healthcare, Singapore has made digitalisation a core agenda in its pursuit of becoming a Smart Nation.
Healthcare providers that can deliver accessible, trusted and secure care are well positioned to meet the expectations of today’s digital-first patients.
“Super Diagnostics” and Data-Powered Health Services
The explosion of available patient data has also created an opportunity to deliver more data-driven healthcare.
Modern hybrid-cloud systems can consolidate patient data held across departments like laboratories, pathology, and genomics which have traditionally been data silos. The multi-cloud approach enables intelligent apps to analyse patient data for “super-diagnostics” and support decisions around the potential effectiveness of therapeutic treatments for cancer and other diseases.
Increasingly, this is what patients want. According to the Frontiers 3.0 study, more than half (55 percent) of patients in Southeast Asia are comfortable and excited with receiving a diagnosis from a powerful computer — one that can learn to detect anomalies such as cancerous cells, for example — rather than seeing a human doctor.
Healthcare providers that enable wearables and sensors as an avenue for secure data sharing can provide real-time monitoring, professional advice and more patient freedom — true patient-first care. It is clear patients want this option right now. The Frontiers 3.0 Study found 61 percent of respondents believed digital healthcare services, like sensors and real-time data monitoring wearables, would provide more freedom to patients with chronic and long-term illnesses.
In Asia-Pacific, healthcare providers are moving fast on this trend. SingHealth Polyclinics has installed a Primary Tech-Enhanced Care (PTEC) program to support self-management of conditions through digital services like vital signs monitoring (VSM), chatbot support, Bluetooth enabled blood-pressure devices and more.
Security, Safety and Trust
But if we are going to keep growing patients’ trust in technology-augmented healthcare, then the security of patient information will have to be central to telehealth experiences.
Despite our region’s embrace of digital healthcare, trust remains a key issue. For example, while the Frontiers 3.0 Study revealed Malaysian respondents increasingly preferred digitised healthcare services, only 28 percent said they trusted the healthcare industry to keep their data secure. Across Southeast Asia, only 31 percent of respondents said they thought their data is safe with healthcare providers.
More remote healthcare workers and a boost in telehealth services increase the number of points at which services could potentially be attacked. The humanitarian nature of healthcare no longer rules it out as a target. In Australia, for example, the healthcare sector had the highest number of data breaches of any industry in the first six months of 2021.
To maintain security, healthcare providers need to better protect cloud access for a distributed workforce. This is most effectively done through software-defined networks and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) models that move data to the cloud and between edge points more securely. Controlling access through constant verification and Zero Trust security models is another way we are helping providers build trust with their patient base. These are the types of features needed if we are to create accessible, trusted, virtual healthcare experiences.
For a healthcare provider, building a robust digital foundation requires transformation investments, but it’s clear to me that technology should be an enabler of care, not a barrier. Whether it’s giving patients secure and easy access to the services they need at a time they want or empowering doctors to work from a remote location, technology can improve the way we deliver care — and is becoming increasingly expected from patients.
As Stéphane Bancel, CEO, Moderna, one of the first drugmakers to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, says, “The biggest revolution we’re going to see in healthcare in the next five to 10 years is a massive increase in the quality of care because we have data, and the ability to act upon data.”