Smart hospitals the answer for Thailand's strained health sector

01 June 2021 Consultancy.asia 4 min. read

Thailand’s healthcare infrastructure is struggling to treat an ageing population with complex needs. A new YCP Solidiance report explains how ‘smart hospitals’ could be the answer to these problems.

Thailand is going through a demographic transition, with nearly a fifth of the population currently above the age of 60 – a share that will likely jump to 22% by 2024. In the healthcare space, age is more than just a number: it brings with it a host of complex ailments.

Researchers from YCP Solidiance illustrate this trend through a grim figure. Thailand’s top three causes of death – cancerous tumors, circulatory disease and respiratory disease – are all commonly age-related. In 2019, these diseases accounted for above 40% of all fatalities in the country.

Healthcare Needs Are Becoming More Complex

This is topped off with managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems and other underlying conditions on a day-to-day basis. For households, this adds up to a sizeable cost burden – one that intensifies as the population gets older and more prone. For Thailand’s healthcare system – well regarded across APAC and internationally – the trend represents a heavy strain on time and resources. 

The country is hurtling towards a shortage of hospitals and beds within them. An example is specialised hospitals, for childcare, maternity, skin, mental health, neurology, cancer, tropical diseases or liver disease – among other focus areas. Per the report, there are only 71 specialised hospitals in all of Thailand – mostly run by universities and public bodies. 

And there are staff shortages too. According to the World Health Organisation, the country has a ratio of 0.5 doctors per 1,000 people – compared to the global average of 2.8. With the demand for medical care on a steadily upward trajectory, this scenario is far from sustainable.

Household expenditure on healthcare is on the rise in Thailand

Per the researchers, Thailand’s best option is to invest in ‘smart hospitals’ that can manage capacity with efficiency and accuracy. 

Smart hospitals

“A smart hospital is a hospital that relies on optimised and automated processes built on an ICT environment of interconnected assets, particularly based on internet of things to improve existing patient care procedures and introduce new capabilities,” explained Mickael Feige, a Thailand-based partner at YCP Solidiance. 

Three core pillars make up a smart hospital. One is data and analytics: where medical equipment automatically records data from all activity, which is then analysed by artificial intelligence and machine learning to find patterns and actionable insights.

Thailand’s strained hospital infrastructure

Next is the real-time, interconnected access to these insights – where doctors and other stakeholders can use phones, tablets and wearables and more to inform quick decision-making. Lastly, smart hospitals have the capacity to autonomously select data for analysis and take necessary action – truly freeing up doctors for more quality care. 

No doubt, digitalising medical care is not a new phenomenon, and hospitals across Thailand have been investing in medical technology for years – even more so during the pandemic and its aftermath. That said, the researchers stress a distinction between digital care and smart care – the latter being a more strategic deployment of advanced technology to derive tangible value. 

For a smart transformation, hospitals invest in the three ‘P’s: people, where staff must be educated on how to make the best of new technology; process, where workflows are optimised using a range of blockchain, AI and robotics applications; and programme, where equipment is upgraded to make work run smoother. 

Strategic investment in these areas could equip the Thai healthcare system not only for domestic demand, but for a growing pool of international medical tourists as well.