From accelerating digitalisation across the industry, to changing the ways healthcare providers deliver care, there is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly transformed how the healthcare sector operates.
With COVID-19 not likely to go away anytime soon, the future of healthcare remains unclear for many.
What does an endemic COVID-19 mean for healthcare providers?
How will leaders of the industry prepare themselves and their organisation to meet the demands of the ‘new normal’?
These were just some of the questions that Philips’ Future Health Index 2021 report – which garnered responses from almost 3,000 healthcare leaders across 14 countries – sought to answer.
At the recent HMA 2021 conference, Caroline Clarke, Executive Vice President and Market Leader, Philips ASEAN Pacific (APAC), shared key insights from the report that she believes will shape the future of healthcare in the region.
APAC healthcare system remains resilient during the pandemic
While the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on healthcare providers, there is optimism for the future among healthcare leaders in APAC, with nearly three in four responding that they are confident in the ability of their healthcare facility to deliver quality care in the future.
There was also an overwhelming consensus that APAC’s healthcare systems rose to the challenges of COVID-19 – 85% of the respondents agreed that their hospitals were capable of handling the pandemic, while 92% thought that their country had been resilient in managing the crisis.
“This optimism and confidence across many countries bode well for healthcare leaders to continue working hand-in-hand with policy makers and with their government to deliver quality healthcare for the population,” said Clarke.
AI a major focus for healthcare in the future
The pandemic had also accelerated the adoption of new models of care – such as telehealth – in order to keep their patients safe and minimise the risk of cross-infections. However, findings from the report indicated that for most countries in the region, transitioning towards virtual care in the long term remains an unlikely outcome.
Only India is likely to prioritise a shift to remote and virtual care, with 75% of their respondents indicating that they would do so – far higher than the rest of the countries surveyed, where the average was just 42%.
Singapore, meanwhile, were found to be the most ambitious country in moving towards a home-based care model.
“The pandemic has accelerated the need in shifting care delivery for patients and providers, and this report shows that there are differences in terms of focus and rates of adoption across the region,” said Clarke.
While 57% of APAC healthcare leaders say that telehealth is currently among the top digital health technologies their hospital or healthcare facility is investing in most heavily, 25% of them are already looking towards the future, and in particular, at predictive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
“Investments in AI are expected to naturally increase three years from now, particularly in the area of optimising operational efficiency,” explained Clarke.
According to Clarke, AI can help extract insights from data, optimise planning procedure times, and select the right exams for the right patient. On a departmental and enterprise level, AI can help hospitals administrators optimise performance and drive productivity and improve the use of existing resources, generating time and cost savings. AI can also provide large amounts of medical data to generate a more holistic view of patients, enabling first-time right diagnosis, and personalised treatments. Predicting how outcomes for preventative action is another area that is important, as well as enhancing clinical decisions to support self-managed care at home.
The report, however, found that the top barriers for healthcare providers to adopting such digital health technologies was the difficulty they faced in data management (41%). This was followed by a lack of interoperability or data standards across technological systems and platforms (39%), a lack of training to fully utilise digital technologies (30%), as well as budgetary constraints (23%).
Growing focus on sustainability
Clarke also highlighted the growing importance of sustainability in healthcare.
About 49% of the respondents expect to introduce sustainability practices three years from now – a substantial increase from today, where the figure stands at just 5%.
“In recent years, organisations like the World Economic Forum have called for the global healthcare industry to contribute a more sustainable healthcare ecosystem,” Clarke elaborated.
“The pandemic has slowed that process and sustainability efforts. However, the immense increase in the single-use of PPE and critical medical supplies, and the corresponding rise in waste disposal, may have encouraged healthcare leaders to reflect on the steps they can take in the medium term.”
Overcoming interoperability challenges through the right partnership
The subject of overcoming interoperability challenges – one of the biggest hurdles in healthcare’s digital journey – was discussed by Dr Benedictus R. Widaja, President Director of Mandaya Hospital Group in Indonesia.
Dr Widaja first shared why and how his hospital decided to invest in an integrated digital health system whose impact would be felt not only by the doctors and nurses, but also by the patients and their families.
“We needed to make sure that the patient and their family feel that it’s one seamless experience. And this experience needed to be predictive and proactive as well, it needed to be personalised, robust and useful,” said Dr Widaja.
To overcome the challenges of interoperability, Dr Widaja stressed the importance of collaborating with the right partner and revealed how Philips offered a solution that could integrate all of their clinical systems.
“We also wanted to choose a like-minded partner who understands and supports our vision, and offers a seamless solution in helping us achieve our goals,” he added.
The topic of overcoming interoperability challenges was also discussed during a tech talk at HMA 2021 by Megha Kalani, business lead for enterprise diagnostic informatics at Philips, ASEAN Pacific.
Highlighting one of the most common issues that healthcare providers face when using different vendors, Kalani said, “Historically, IT purchases were made keeping in mind the needs of a specific department, and that has led to disparate systems, preventing seamless sharing of data with physicians and patients, and creating IT silos within a hospital.
“When we look at it from an enterprise-wide solutions perspective, we see that the various stakeholders need data such as imaging studies, patient reports, and the broader patient history that’s available on EMR, so as to be able to collaborate, both across and beyond the enterprise in order to make decisions that are informed, data-driven decisions for our patients.”
To that end, Kalani introduced Philips’ Clinical Collaboration platform, which she says “allows providers to consolidate, manage, and seamlessly share images and data across the enterprise”.
She elaborated, “If we were to go one step deeper, think of it as an imaging health record. It’s an imaging repository that augments the EMR. It helps get contextual access to imaging studies, reports, as well as results, right from the EMR.
“It uses a single interface to store multiple different objects, and it can be in different file formats, and that all goes into a single storage. From there, it’s about sharing and distributing it to any of the users, whether you’re a specialist, a referring physician, or the patient themselves, from any location.”
Another key feature of the platform is its vendor-agnostic universal solution, which allows it to be installed on top of any vendor, making it “completely interoperable”.
Ultimately though, Kalani concluded that to overcome interoperability challenges in an enterprise, a well-thought and well-executed informatics focused strategy is needed.