The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every industry uniquely, but one challenge that has been felt universally is communication. Amid the lockdowns, communication has been put to the test and we have all begun to realize the value that technology can afford us.
As the virus has ravaged communities, the healthcare industry has faced a need for patient engagement tools, and medication assistance programs as patients with pre-existing conditions have either been unable or unwilling to use traditional healthcare services. Understandably, nobody wants to sit in a waiting room where there is a chance of another patient having the infection but, the healthcare, and pharmacy network, have expressed concerns over the repercussions in terms of disease management and medication adherence.
This has been eased by the growing use of mobile health solutions. Telemedicine is one such solution that has helped physicians to treat patients from a safe distance. It simply requires the patient and the doctor to have an internet connection and a computer, tablet, or smartphone – technology that typically exists in their own homes. Using this technology, patients can present their symptoms to a healthcare provider from the comfort and security of their own home, and this can result in faster diagnoses and treatments.
Patients also benefit from reduced stress and in some cases, lower consultation fees than an in-person consultation, as well as reduced travel and waiting time. Some telemedicine apps also link the patients account with their insurance policy so that payment can be made by their insurance provider.
The need for mobile health solutions existed before COVID-19
This is evidenced in Bain & Company’s 2019 Asia-Pacific Front Line of Healthcare survey, ( 1 )
Highly respected information from Bain and Company
which surveyed more than 1,800 consumers and 250 physicians. The results showed nearly 50% of patients expected to use digital health tools in the next five years. This jumped to 91% if the costs were covered by an employer or insurance provider.
Driving this demand is the fact that many Southeast Asian countries have fewer doctors than required. According to the World Health Organization, the number of physicians per 1,000 people in the population is 0.20 in Indonesia, 0.47 in Thailand and 0.80 in Vietnam. Singapore is an exception in the region with 2.3 per 1,000. This is in contrast to figures in Germany and the U.S which are 4.19 and 2.56 physicians per 1,000 people, respectively.
Contributing to this problem is the large geographical footprint of many Southeast Asian countries which means remote provinces remain underserved. Digital technology, however, allows these communities to connect with medical professionals in urban cities, share medical information in real-time and receive basic diagnoses on the spot.
In Southeast Asia, the use of healthcare technology in patients and physicians is on the rise due to an aging population, increasing chronic diseases, and restricted access to healthcare in underserved regions.
The rise of mobile health solutions amid COVID-19
To cater for the growing need for technology in the healthcare sector, 12 telemedicine providers in Singapore are competing for customers, including MyDoc, Doctor Anywhere, RingMD and Speedoc, while in Indonesia, telehealth app Halodoc has more than 2 million users and a database of 20,000 doctors.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine was in its infancy stages, but in less than six months, this mobile health solution has become the new normal for many healthcare practitioners who have relied on it to improve medication adherence.
Many telemedicine providers have reported a surge in users. Ping An Good Doctor, a Chinese healthcare services platform which is expected to enter Southeast Asia next year, reported a 900% increase in new users in January 2020, compared with December 2019. And, MyDoc, a telemedicine platform headquartered in Singapore, reported a 160% increase in daily active users in the first quarter of 2020. These results shine a spotlight on a region that is primed for adoption of mobile health solutions.
COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine in Southeast Asia. The pandemic has removed barriers and changed patient behavior to mobile health solutions.
Mobile health solutions are expected to grow further
While the benefits of technology have indeed been available for some time, COVID-19 has removed the behavioural and economic barriers to widespread adoption.
According to Frost & Sullivan, the Asia Pacific telehealth market was expected to see a 12% annual growth rate and reach US$1.79 billion in 2020, up from US$1.02 billion in 2015. ( 2 )
Highly respected information from Frost and Sullivan
However, given the increased use of telemedicine over the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the annual growth rate will accelerate further in the years ahead.
Moreover, the emerging nature of Southeast Asian markets shows that patients and physicians in this region are open to change. This is complemented by signs of regulatory reform as governments are playing an active role to address medication access and affordable medications. Many regulators are recognising that digital solutions will be critical, and technology is shaping both policy reform and stimulus packages.
That means no matter which sector of the healthcare industry you operate in, the incorporation of digital health solutions promises to be transformative. In a matter of months, we have witnessed patient acceptance for digital technology, and most importantly, insurer acceptance and government support and dependence for digital health platforms.
Multiple insurers have set up special partnerships with telemedicine platforms to sponsor free consultations and governments have also made digital health platforms available to the general public to contain the spread of the virus. Indonesia is one such example. The Ministry of Health in Indonesia partnered with ride-hailing giant Gojek, and telemedicine provider Halodoc, to provide quick COVID-19 diagnostics in remote areas.
Patients and physicians in this region are open to the adoption of mobile health solutions, and this will continue to rise post COVID-19. This is complemented by signs of regulatory reform in shaping policies and stimulus packages.
COVID-19 has laid the foundation for a new era of healthcare
The bottom line is, after getting a taste for digital health platforms, patients, and healthcare practitioners are likely to continue using them, even after the pandemic subsides. That means pharmaceutical companies and consumer healthcare companies must integrate digital healthcare solutions.
mClinica Pharmacy Solutions is another key player in the digital transformation of healthcare across Southeast Asia. We offer a suite of pharmacy technology solutions including a digital patient assistance program, and a pharmacy mobile app, SwipeRx which caters to one-third of pharmacists across Southeast Asia.
To find out more about our digital solutions visit mclinica.com/patient-assistance-program/
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