Covid-19 is accelerating digital health adoption in Asia Pacific

19 May 2020 3 min. read
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The Covid-19 crisis is changing the healthcare system for good, and L.E.K. Consulting predicts a strong digital presence in the sector going forth. The firm analysed trends in the Asia-Pacific healthcare sector as the crisis progresses.

The firm points out how the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced in April that it recognised telemedicine as a legitimate channel for healthcare. This is set to change the healthcare landscape rapidly, and L.E.K. Consulting predicts that the changes will be here to stay.

“We predict that new ways of working and behaviours, forged and refined in the heat of battle against COVID-19, will not be easily put ‘back in the box,’“ wrote the firm. Most changes at present are being driven by sheer necessity, as healthcare systems across the globe are being stretched to their limit and beyond in containing the virus. 

Regulatory policies announced by China's government in light of Covid-19

The firm uses China as an example of how the progression of Covid-19 has led to the rapid advancement of the digital healthcare framework in the APAC healthcare systems, as well as across the world. Wuhan was locked down towards the end of January, and by the first week of February policy letters were published in China to allow for digital health to play and part. 

The letters were complete with guidelines on how to implement and control telemedicine. By the end of February through the start of March, recommendations had been made on how to regulate and control online prescriptions and drug use, as well as managing financial reimbursements for online consultations and insurance claims.

“Other jurisdictions within APAC and globally followed suit, acting swiftly to increase healthcare capacity and enable innovation through digital tools to combat the outbreak,” said the report. Australia and Japan were among the quickest to respond, the former lifting reimbursement controls on telemedicine, while the latter loosened regulations on online consulting.

This is the progress around online consultations, although L.E.K. Consulting reports that the progress has been much more far reaching. As healthcare professionals balance between prevention, containment and treatment, the use of tech has now extended to drug development, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, as well as rehabilitation.

Emerging digital solutions during Covid-19

“The Institute of Materia Medica in Beijing has been collaborating with Canadian biotech firm Cyclica to identify and develop antiviral drug candidates for COVID-19 through its proprietary deep-learning machine MatchMaker,” explained the report, pointing to the use of tech in drug development. 

Meanwhile, a number of apps are being used to trace cases and contact history across China, Singapore and South Korea to enable prevention. In China, artificial intelligence is now even being used for diagnostic purposes, for functions such as lung scans. In, Beijing, a patient can now be diagnosed in less than ten seconds.

Telemedicine is, of course, being used at the treatment stage, while programmes are being developed to allow healthcare practitioners to monitor intensive care patients remotely. “As the outbreak disrupts the ways in which providers, businesses and consumers alike operate, digital innovation is also being used to cushion the negative consequences of a global pandemic to supply chains and business-to-business ways of working across the healthcare value chain,” wrote the report.