Will interoperability in Malaysia remain a dream?

Hospital interoperability definitely helps patients, hospitals, governments, and insurers. But is it doable for Malaysia? Gaurav Rekhi, Managing Director and CEO at Manipal Hospitals Klang, shares his perspective.

Quality of care depends on having the right information at the right time, so that whenever or wherever patients are, they are able to access proper care. This is what interoperability does, still a goal for most hospitals in Asia but something that’s in every organisation’s wish list.

One factor why interoperability seems a far-flung dream for Malaysia is the lack of digital efforts from hospitals. However, in recent years, steps are being taken to adapt to the changing times, particularly during the ongoing pandemic.

Telehealth suddenly became a new way to reach patients. And with this, electronic access to patient data was urgently needed. Manipal Hospitals Klang, a private hospital in Malaysia, says that this had been possible through their Electronic Medical Records (EMR), which allowed their consultants remote and quick access to patient records from their registered devices.

Manipal Hospitals Klang adopted EMR in 2018 primarily to realise a paperless retrieval of patient records, allowing them to save time and save lives, says Gaurav Rekhi, Managing Director and CEO. It is integrated with Lab Information Systems, Radiology Information System, clinical notes, and prescriptions, among others. Most private hospitals in the country use a similar EMR system.

Government hospitals, too, are slowly embracing this data management technology. Last year, the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Malaysia announced its goal to implement EMRs within three to five years in all public clinics and hospitals, allocating up to RM1.5 billion for the project, hoping that a fully established EMR system across all hospitals in the country will make room for interoperability.

However, there is always the difficulty of getting buy-in from stakeholders, especially healthcare providers and users of the system. A survey from the Centre for Connected Medicine finds that less than 40 percent of hospital executives approve of data sharing between hospitals, although the majority of respondents assert their move to using EMR as part of their plans to be interoperable.

While Rekhi understands that there are challenges, including data privacy issues, insurance participation, high cost, and universal patient identification, he believes that hospital interoperability in Malaysia will “increase patient trust in the hospital” since patients can receive care anywhere and anytime they need it, thereby, helping to “enhance services and doctor-patient relationships across hospitals.” Thus, it can be a huge advantage for patients, hospitals, the government, and even insurance companies.

Still another issue is the scalability of the solutions used by hospitals. The American Hospital Association finds that the main barriers to exchange and interoperability are usually the lack of compatible technology for receiving providers, exchange challenges across different vendor platforms, and difficulty in matching and identifying the correct patient between systems.

It isn’t enough that every hospital has an EMR. The problem lies on whether the technology or the EMR is interoperable with other applications and can be scaled up to a full and large distributed system, such as the entire Malaysian healthcare ecosystem. In other words, the technology should be able to “talk” with other systems so as not to cause a break in the otherwise smooth intercommunication of patient information.

Should there be increasing support from both the government and private sector for an interoperable healthcare system and a required scalability feature for data management solutions by vendors, it is only a matter of time that patients in Malaysia can enjoy a more seamless patient journey and access higher quality of care wherever and whenever they seek treatment.

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