Telemedicine and digital health an opportunity for Singapore

20 August 2020 Consultancy.asia 4 min. read

Digital health has come into sharp focus in Singapore, not only to help manage the Covid-19 crisis but also to facilitate a longer term shift to community care for a growing elderly population. This is according to a new YCP Solidiance report.

The advisory firm points out that nearly a quarter of Singapore’s population will be elderly by 2030, making it the highest ratio of seniors in Southeast Asia. What’s more, well over 80,000 of these seniors are expected to be living alone. While nursing homes have been the traditional choice for many in the country, the government is now working on a shift in the care model to deal with the high anticipated volumes.

The new model is one where the community at large should take a concerted effort to care for its elderly. As they manage this growing responsibility, members of the community are likely to appreciate help from digital tools that will allow them not only to better care for the elderly, but to do so remotely.

This is the big opportunity for digital health players. YCP Solidiance breaks the opportunity down into two segments – telemedicine and assistive tech. Telemedicine refers to remote patient care and consultation, which has become possible through modern videoconferencing technology that is compliant with health and regulatory standards.

Future Outlook in the Telemedicine Market

Telemedicine

Remote care is one major advantage of telemedicine, as is the elimination of waiting times. YCP Solidiance reports that patients at public healthcare facilities could end up waiting nearly an hour and a half for care and consultation, and this can jump to three hours without an appointment. Telemedicine guarantees immediate care.

As the appeal grows, many digital health players have come up to step into the telemedicine market. Examples include Doctor World, Sata CommHealth, C+, WhiteCoat, Mana DR and HiDoc. Most have begun offering consultation with family physicians, while many offer additional value-added services such as free medicine deliveries, 24/7 video call availability, live chats via WhatsApp and other platforms, as well as specialised health expertise.

“This industry is set to take off further with the Ministry of Health’s announcement in 2020 that it will step up efforts to increase the awareness of telemedicine among patients, and the passing of the new Healthcare Services Bill in parliament, which will give telemedicine legitimacy in it being a regulated service by the authorities,” explained Shingo Kasumoto, Managing Partner at YCP Solidiance and co-author of the report.

The question remains of where the scope for growth lies. According to the research, Software as a Service (SaaS) is one big opportunity. SaaS can enable complex care, which integrates social and medical care records of a patient to give a holistic view of their present condition. Patients can also be given a personal health tablet, which can be used to make video calls and can also be connected to blood pressure monitors and other such devices.

Another SaaS function is chronic disease self-management, which “allows high-risk chronic patients to track their vital signs independently, to manage their own chronic conditions,” according to the report. Once again, blood pressure monitors and other sensors will be key here.

Products Used in Assistive Technology

Add to these functions the capacity for telemedicine to facilitate remote coaching and rehabilitation, and the market represents a tremendous opportunity. The other area for digital health players to consider is assistive tech, where the government is increasingly getting involved.

YCP Solidiance points out that Singaporeans are no strangers to assistive tech. In fact, consumers in Singapore are among the most tech savvy in the world, and many use fitbits and other gadgets to monitor their physical activity and heart rate. In recent years, the government has put assistive tech at the centre of Singapore’s future healthcare system, particularly in elder care.

Assistive technology

Assistive tech ranges from government-backed home sensors and alert buttons that can call for emergency care; to wearable technology such as fitbits that can monitor health and send alerts; all the way to mobility devices for elders who can no longer move around independently. The government’s focus on this segment presents a massive opportunity for digital health players.

So telemedicine and assistive tech have tremendous potential in Singapore. The good news for suppliers is that Singapore’s senior population is also among the richest in the country. As a result, the increased cost that comes with health tech is not a major barrier. Instead, relevant barriers include a lack of insurance coverage in telemedicine, and the low digital competency among elders.

However, concerted government efforts and private sector response is expected to change this. Meanwhile, the sheer necessity of digital health as a result of the Covid-19 crisis has done wonders for development in the sector.