Most critically, “Internet and smartphone penetration [is] growing, and the technology infrastructure (is) moving to cloud-based services,” says David Wijeratne, PwC’s Growth Markets Centre leader.
Digital innovations can plug the healthcare gap in emerging markets, improving the quality of and access to care, while reducing costs, he adds. For example, telemedicine allows doctors to treat patients in remote areas where traditional healthcare has failed to reach.
Markets need to consider such new models, as it’s unlikely they “will be able to close the healthcare gap using a traditional approach,” says Wijeratne.
However, he points to three main challenges that must be overcome before we see widespread adoption of digital healthcare in emerging Southeast Asia. While connectivity is improving, most countries lack fixed broadband infrastructure to support technologies; public healthcare systems have insufficient resources to embrace innovations; and there is a dearth of cybersecurity and privacy laws.
Why Singapore leads Southeast Asia in digital healthcare
While developed markets such as Germany started digitising patients’ health records in the early 2000s, adoption of traditional electronic health records (EHR) remains low in emerging Southeast Asia – paper and outdated IT equipment still dominate healthcare in these markets.
However, Singapore – long a nation of early adopters – stands apart in Southeast Asia. The country’s uptake of digital healthcare has been driven by a combination of factors, including the government’s promotion of IT adoption and innovation in healthcare. The Integrated Clinic Management Systems programme was launched a decade ago to improve the operations of General Practitioner (GP) clinics and better plan for patient treatments in coordination with hospitals and other healthcare providers. Just recently, the country announced it would pump in more than S$19 billion (US$13 billion) to a five-year plan for research and development, some of which will go towards innovation at the intersection of healthcare and IT.
“There are a number of (other) factors that have ensured Singapore leads digital healthcare adoption in the region as well as globally,” says Wijeratne. These include strong internet connectivity and high mobile and smartphone penetration, which are crucial for digital adoption among consumers and enterprises.
Singapore has a nation-wide wireless broadband network and world-leading ultra-high-speed fibre infrastructure, which delivers connectivity direct to homes and offices. Mobile subscription penetration has also exceeded 100 per cent.
Furthermore, the country has all the elements listed in PwC’s The Digital Healthcare Leap as key for a healthy digital healthcare market: seamless access to health information, data security, disruptive health startups and patient-centred digital innovations.
Singapore is advancing seamless access to health information. Having rolled out a National Electronic Health Record system in 2011 that enables patient records to be shared across the healthcare system, Singapore is now moving data to the cloud. More than 40,000 healthcare workers already use H-Cloud to access medical records.