Telemedicine still high on hospitals’ procurement list this year

Hospitals in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines share on their purchasing plans, which continue despite the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic would have likely thrown a spanner in the works for purchasing departments around the world. Planned purchases could have given way to medical equipment and consumables critical in controlling this infectious disease. They also had to contend with a sharp increase in global demand for items such as ventilators, PPEs and sterilisers.

As the demand-supply of COVID-19 items have more or less stabilised compared to a year ago, we asked hospitals from five countries in the ASEAN region – Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – if the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their purchasing strategy or processes. To no surprise, most hospitals noted that they have simplified or streamlined processes to speed up procurement, to ensure crucial supplies are obtained in time.

In particular, Asian Hospital & Medical Centre of the Philippines noted that at the onset of the pandemic, they created a database and dashboard to identify and monitor the supplies and medicines that were moving fast and those that were hard to procure. The data captured enabled timely decisions to be made in purchasing critical items required for COVID-19 management.

Primaya Hospital, a group that operates ten hospitals in Indonesia, found a centralised purchasing system crucial during the pandemic, when supplies were scarce. Through Primaya Hospital Corporate Centralized Purchasing, purchases were organised in bulk and directly ordered from the source, ensuring value and efficiency.

Criteria for hospital purchases

In terms of general purchasing criteria, hospitals tend to consider a mix of various factors. These include the customisability of the product to their specific needs, as well as the branding. The commercial offer and the level of service provided by the vendor, as well as user experience, all play a part in the decision making process.

In addition, Malaysia’s Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II indicated that in the wake of COVID-19, they would give priority for locally manufactured products, which carry less risk of delay in delivery; whereas Oriental Melaka Straits Medical Centre explained that they would review the relevant medical equipment certificates, and meet with other end-users for their feedback.

Items on hospitals’ purchase list

Besides COVID-related products, which likely remains high on the list for hospitals, some have noted that equipment that support telemedicine services have seen rising popularity, when face-to-face consultations were restricted during lockdowns.

Aside from those, many surveyed hospitals also spoke of plans to further invest in equipment that enhance their specialty services.

Medical imaging and scanning equipment, such as MRI scanners, PET-CT scans and ultrasound machines were commonly listed as the next area of investment across the various countries, from Indonesia’s Medistra Hospital to Vietnam’s Hoan My Medical Corporation. Specifically, there is interest in mobile X-ray and mobile CT scans that offer more accessibility to patients.

Coming in close were cardiovascular disease treatment and diagnostics equipment, in boosting the capabilities of the cardiology or cardiothoracic departments. For example, Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai (a Member of BDMS) listed OCT equipment (Optical Coherence Tomography, a diagnostic procedure that is used during cardiac catheterisation) which would enhance the hospital’s intervention services.

Up and coming technologies that hold potential in cancer treatment have garnered attention as well, as highlighted by Bangkok Chain Hospital and Asian Hospital & Medical Centre. An example is the IORT technology (Intraoperative Radiation Therapy), or a form of targeted radiation treatment that spares normal surrounding tissue. It has shown potential in the treatment of patients with early breast cancers, with shortened treatment time and reduced side effects.

Last but not least, improving productivity and reducing errors in the pharmacies are on the minds of hospitals such as BNH Hospital. Automated systems or pharmacy robots were examples listed – these can help pharmacists with filling prescriptions and dispensing medication, taking on repetitive tasks such as counting pills and labelling vials. Pharmacists can then spend more time on advising patients on the usage of medication according to their individual health condition.

Equipping for the future

While hospitals are understandably focusing on products related to COVID-19 treatment or management at the moment, it is clear that the surveyed hospitals continue to look out for new technologies or innovative devices that can provide better care for their patients. This commitment will ensure their quality of care for patients consistently improves, despite the ongoing pandemic.