Health2Home (H2H) set to become the norm: Key trends shaping healthcare in ASEAN
As the world finally gets back to a semblance of pre-COVID normalcy, it is a good time to reflect on the lessons from and consequences of the past two-and-half years as well as gaze into the future of healthcare. While many of the trends have been brewing for some time, it is fair to say that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst and accelerated the pace of change significantly, making them irreversible.
Asia, with its large and aging population, presents enormous opportunities and challenges to the healthcare sector. The healthcare infrastructure has generally been acknowledged to be under-developed here, barring a few exceptions such as in Singapore. No wonder that it is a sector that is ripe for disruption, which is manifesting in the emergence of digital health ecosystems across Asia, including ASEAN/ South East Asia. As a McKinsey article titled ‘The future of healthcare in Asia’ points out, “healthcare ecosystems of the future will likely be defined by the needs of different patient populations and their associated effective care journeys (including beyond care itself). The consumer-oriented nature of these ecosystems also will increase the number of healthcare touchpoints, with the goal of modifying patient behavior and improving outcomes.”
Being a stakeholder in the healthcare space in this region, here are some of the key trends that I see. Of course, many of these are universal and not limited to ASEAN, but as with disruptions happening in several other sectors, the demographics and the current state of affairs dictate that ASEAN will be at the forefront of these changes.
Health2Home: ‘homecare’ will constitute a huge part of healthcare
Just as “work from home” became the norm during and post-pandemic, I expect that a lot of healthcare delivery will shift to the home. Many diagnostic services had already reached the home previously and the idea of telemedicine and virtual consultations have been gaining ground for some time. However, as the latter stages of the response to the pandemic demonstrated, a lot of curative interventions can be done right from the home, without the need for dedicated healthcare facilities. This will be enabled by the confluence of several interdependent trends: the development of digital communication and collaboration technologies and platforms; the growth of the gig economy and, peer-to-peer and last-mile delivery of products and services.
The Singapore government recently announced a five-pronged ‘Healthier SG’ strategy to develop “overall healthier living while targeting specific sub-populations”. One of the desired outcomes of this strategy is that each household will have access to a family physician– while that may not be the same as the idea of ‘Health2Home’ I mentioned above, it is fairly close with respect to accessibility of healthcare. Though economic considerations may not allow other countries in the region to be as ambitious, I do expect significantly more efforts from a healthcare policy perspective in the other countries in the region that will improve healthcare accessibility.
Greater use of artificial intelligence and digitalisation
I’ve already alluded to this point in the first trend, but this one is about the role of AI in making healthcare delivery more efficient and effective. According to Caroline Clarke, CEO and EVP at Philips ASEAN Pacific in an interview, “there is a growing trend amongst healthcare leaders to adopt broader uses of AI’s capabilities in the future to predict outcomes, integrate diagnostics and for clinical decision support. In three years from now, 79 percent of APAC’s healthcare leaders expect AI to be one of the digital health technologies they will be most heavily investing in, up from 46 per cent today.”
Further, we will see the digitalisation of healthcare pick up pace at unprecedented levels. The sharing of health and health-related records not only across the healthcare ecosystem within a country but also across countries will be a reality, with due respect to privacy protection of personal information.
Rise in preventive and ‘discretionary’ healthcare
Critics have long said that currently the world is focused on ‘sick care’ rather than actual healthcare. That emphasis is changing rapidly and we are increasingly hearing of “holistic wellness” and “holistic health”.
The old adage prevention is better than cure has never been truer — rising healthcare costs are clearly forcing policy makers, healthcare providers, health insurance companies and even the consumers to focus on prevention of disease.
Advances in bioscience and stem cell treatments
As the head of a company involved in the niche field of umbilical cord stem cell storage’, this is one trend that we view very positively. Stem cell treatments and therapies are proving effective in a range of medical conditions. Just recently, there were reports of initial success in clinical trials with HIV patients. With similar clinical trials and research going on to study efficacy against other medical conditions, we will see such stem cell therapies becoming a lot more mainstream than they are now.
Besides Singapore, we are seeing the growing acceptance of cord blood banking in several countries in the region. These include Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to name just a few. The signs are indeed very encouraging.
Besides the above trends, I expect greater collaboration between the different players of the healthcare ecosystem. I also envisage a reduction in the cycle time of discovery, development and commercialization of new medicines and treatments. The amazing speed with which vaccines for Covid-19 were developed have shown that it is possible to compress the development cycle. That is one positive that we can take from the despair of the past two years and look to the future with optimism.
Rajesh Nair is CEO of Cryoviva Singapore, a leading family cord blood bank serving customers in Singapore, South East Asia and the Middle East. Views expressed in this article are personal.