Hospitals in Asia Pacific are charging into a digital future

26 April 2021 4 min. read

Technology is now being used for a host of healthcare services in Asia Pacific – spanning diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and consultations. A new report by L.E.K Consulting and GRG Health presents the state of digital adoption in the region’s health industry.

In May last year – the thick of the Covid-19 outbreak – L.E.K. Consulting checked in with hospitals across the Asia Pacific (APAC), and found digital health forming roots in the market. Telemedicine had emerged as an efficient and safe alternative for treatment – helped along by an endorsement from the World Health Organisation.

A year later, L.E.K Consulting teamed up with GRG Health to survey over 400 healthcare executives across Australia, China, Singapore, Japan and other key regional markets – to see how their priorities have evolved over the course of a global pandemic. 

Digital health solutions are being adopted across key APAC markets

As it happens, hospitals are still in crisis-response mode. The scale and infectiousness of Covid-19 caught global hospital systems off guard, and APAC was no exception. Emergency response and liquidity took priority over long-term development strategies last year, and have remained at the top of the agenda – despite effective containment in key APAC markets. 

Technology has formed the bedrock of this response. “The pandemic, with its restrictions on patient mobility and accompanying risk aversion to hospitals, has brought about an increased acceptance of digital health for all stakeholders,” explained Fabio La Mola, a partner at L.E.K. Consulting in Singapore. 

“This has led to accelerated adoption of solutions such as teleconsultation, artificial intelligence (AI)-aided image analysis and remote patient monitoring. Patients are more receptive to digital alternatives, and governments see the benefit of greater adoption. Increasingly, regulations are being eased and reimbursements are being formalised for digital health solutions.”

Value of digital health adoption

As a result, the vast majority of hospitals across APAC are exploring and trialing digital health solutions – if not already using them. In Singapore, this figure stands at 94%, while Australia and China have a 84% and 89% adoption rate respectively. Japan lags behind with just over 60%.

Most tech adoption is a means to sustaining the quality of diagnosis and treatment – even at a distance and under pressure from high volumes. Examples abound. In China, medical imaging company Infervision is using AI imaging to identify potential Covid-19 patients. Hospitals in Indonesia and India are using robot assistants to deliver food and drugs – minimising risk for healthcare workers, while remote patient monitoring tools from global predictive care firm Bifourmis allow practitioners to track vitals among people waiting for test results.

Beyond patient-care, hospitals are using technology to minimise errors, and find new revenue streams to cope with losses from reduced elective surgeries and consultations. Many are also using digital channels to engage with suppliers – a win-win where hospitals can order medication and equipment with ease while pharma companies can expand their distribution. 

Challenges ahead

All things considered, digital health appears to be the future – although some barriers persist. For one, the shift from physical to digital – or mixed – care models is pushing hospitals to adjust their workflows and protocols, which have been in place for decades.

Challenges to digital health adoption

“Another top concern is the interoperability of the different digital health solutions,” noted Stephen Sunderland, a Shanghai-based partner at L.E.K. Consulting. “With each company developing its own solution — some using their own proprietary system and some on different open systems — each is capturing and storing data in different ways, which prevents data integration and communication.”

Standardisation is key, while regulations are also required to manage a third core challenge to digital health – data privacy. Telemedicine and digital care means a constant exchange of sensitive patient data across a variety of personal and professional networks – blurring the lines of privacy and posing a notable security risk. Per the report, data leaks have already been reported in Singapore and Australia.

Collaboration among multiple stakeholders is key to managing these challenges, and several others – spanning a shortage of digital talent in healthcare, limited budget for tech investments and patient resistance to digital care, to name a few. “Keeping your finger on the pulse of hospital executives’ views will continue to be a key to success for medtech and pharma companies as the ecosystem settles into this new normal,” concluded La Mola.