Tips from a digital trendsetter

Bagan Specialist Centre and Oriental Melaka Straits Medical Centre’s Managing Director on empowering your practice and your people for the next era of healthcare

The global health crisis has hit Malaysia’s private healthcare hard. As travel restrictions send shocks through the lucrative 1.5 billion Ringit medical tourism market, and public hospitals bear the bulk of the country’s coronavirus care, the nation has seen 50% revenue drops across private hospitals.  

As the industry slowly moves towards recovery, new technologies are critical for these hospitals to heal.

Dr. Tan Hui Ling, Managing Director of Bagan Specialist Centre and Oriental Melaka Straits Medical Centre, talks with Hospital Insights Asia on being a digital trendsetter, choosing the right time – and the right partner – for your hospital’s EMR journey, and why the will of your workforce is the most important asset in your digital toolbox.

Digital – the lifeblood of the business

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated Healthcare’s digitalisation journey, with a recent survey of Malaysian telehealth providers and hospitals noting the pandemic has strengthened the foundation of digital health care services in the country. And in a market full of healthy competition, it’s important for private hospitals to keep their finger on the pulse. 

“The world is transforming to be digitally driven and as a healthcare provider, we have no choice but to transform and adapt to IT innovation in order to be competitive”, Dr. Tan states candidly. “For me it is better to be leading it and be (a) trend-setter, rather than be left behind and become outdated and inefficient”.

Part of staying ahead of the game is implementation throughout the lifeblood of the hospital’s infrastructure. 

“Almost 70% of our hospital operational needs are dependent on IT now, 90% of the clinical process and 50% of the administrative process”, explains Tan. This holistic hyper-connectivity not only streamlines business operations, but can also gain life-saving moments in patient treatment, an asset that will remain critical post-COVID.

“There is no time to lose when we have patients in emergency situations…. operation theatres or ICU, and every minute is time gained when we have immediate access to patient medical info”, says Tan. “This happens every day and not just during COVID – 19”.

Revitalising your workforce 

In an interview earlier this year, Tan broached the challenges of a workforce unfamiliar with a digital healthcare system and “resistant to change”. With time, she has found a balanced dose of providing new training opportunities, and restricting access to familiar but outdated practices, is an effective method to reinvigorate, and re-motivate the workforce. 

“To learn a new skill or new system, in this case the electronic version of medical records, was time-consuming and difficult in the initial stage”, she acknowledges. “People generally find it easy to use what they have been familiar with… Providing training and preparing the team mentally for the need to change, we had to be draconian, and limit the access to paper medical records after a period of transition was allowed. Otherwise there is always a reason not to adopt EMR”.

Prescribing the right partner for business success 

Yet, as with all aspects with healthcare, digitalisation is not a one size cures all solution. 

“EMR is not a magic pill, and definitely not perfect”, Tan says firmly. “We are very selective in which IT solution we invest in. It has to be effective and affordable, balancing quality and cost. We start with the basics and slowly build upon it as our team becomes more experienced in healthcare IT needs and solutions”. 

For her, choosing the right EMR system involves a careful diagnosis of your hospital and workforce’s capabilities to prescribe the right partner for your specific business needs. 

“I think it is important to know the stage of your hospital’s IT infrastructure capability and staff’s healthcare IT knowledge level”, explains Tan. “With that choose a system that is easy for your hospital to start implementing it, in terms of cost and capability wise.” 

For hospitals at the start of their EMR journey, she suggests starting slow, “choosing a basic system first, then build upon it progressively, rather than jump into a sophisticated system”. 

A hyper-connected vision 

Bagan and Oriental are just one of the vital organs in a wider national body. The centre’s current projects coincide with the Government’s announcement of the pilot phase of a nation-wide EMR initiative, implementing electronic health records across all public health institutions in the Negri Sembilan state. 

Equally when discussing the future of interoperability – the smooth electronic exchange of data across different hospitals – Tan reflects on the wider context of Malaysia’s healthcare industry. 

“It will be beneficial if it exists nationwide in all public and private hospitals where patients frequently visit”, she muses. “(But) at the moment there is no government will to enable hospital interoperability for health information exchange nationwide across both public and private sector. As a country we do not have industry standards…. be it standard interoperability format for data sharing … or standard requirements for data security”.

While the backbone of a realistic interoperable healthcare sector may be yet to come, for Tan the vision of a hyper-connected future is already clear: and it stretches past the (virtual) walls of hospitals. 

“Ideally it will be instantaneous access to patient data including previous treatment record, investigation results, prescription history, everything medically related”, she says enthusiastically. “not just from another hospital, but also community pharmacy, general practitioner clinics, traditional or alternative medicine practitioner clinics, independent laboratories, community dialysis centres and even nursing homes”.

A certain future for uncertain times  

There are a number of factors that help nurture a healthy EMR infrastructure. A clear understanding of your hospital’s capabilities and a solutions provider that balances quality and cost are just a few things Tan hopes will help Bagan and Oriental work towards her ultimate goal “to improve our workflow and clinical care, at an affordable cost… (to) track, monitor and be alerted of clinical outcomes individually and as a hospital.

But the most important asset for patient, commercial and EMR success, lies not within the hospital infrastructure, but those who run it.

“Most important is the will to employ it”, Tan states firmly. “Once it is there, we will find the resources to get it done and to overcome the challenges”.

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