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Southeast Asia is home to more than 600 million people – a population bigger than that of the European Union or North America. It had a combined GDP of $2.4tn in 2013 and is projected to be the world’s fourth largest economy by 2050.
Yet, according to a report by Deloitte, there is a sad reality about this region as far as healthcare is concerned: “Health is a striking example where least progress has been made in Asia, despite the high economic growth and great success in poverty reduction.”
Consistent economic growth since the 1970s has increased the average life expectancy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). In 2012, average life expectancy was 73 years – an increase of eight years since 1990.
However, the region faces many health challenges. By 2020, citizens above 65 will number 46 million – 7.8% of the total Asean population. Meanwhile, chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases are becoming more prevalent due to sedentary lifestyles as Asean nations get richer. Asia-Pacific is predicted to have the greatest number of NCD (non-communicable, or non-infectious, diseases) deaths by 2020.
Can Asean countries address these mounting health challenges? The answer is yes, according to the Deloitte report, with the aid of technology such as digital healthcare delivery systems, wearable and mobile health applications, and business intelligence (BI) tools.
How BI can improve healthcare delivery
“Just like other organisations, hospitals and clinics are overflowing with data, be it operations and financial data or quality metrics and patient information,” said JY Pook, senior vice-president, Apac, at visual analytics company Tableau.
“Data in general is an underutilised asset if it is not being leveraged to solve an organisation’s challenges and lead to meaningful insights. The same goes for the healthcare industry that can utilise data to reduce costs, enhance quality and improve the overall patient experience. This is especially crucial for Asia, as an ageing population, growing life expectancy and a larger middle class have increased the demands for healthcare in the region.”
According to healthcare research agency HIMSS Asia-Pacific, BI is about past and current data that can help organisations decide what to do about present operational concerns. Hospitals can use BI to gain insights from customer, financial and operational data to make more informed decisions, resulting in more efficiency, effectiveness and cost savings.
Harnessing the value of patient data
Deloitte predicted in its report that Asean countries will have implemented electronic medical records and advanced hospital information systems by 2020.
This healthcare data will be used for many purposes, including to improve outcomes of healthcare services and drug effectiveness, to use big data to advance national health insurance, and to co-operate with regional bodies to allow regional surveillance of health risk factors.
In its report, Deloitte made the following observations for Asean nations, based on current technology trends:
- Information and communications technology will become more pervasive in healthcare.
- Big data will be used for population health management.
- The industry will employ the secondary use of electronic medical record (EMR)/electronic health record (EHR) data, next-generation sequencing (NGS) informatics and analytics, medical imaging and informatics, and remote patient monitoring.
- Electronic health records and advanced hospital information systems will be in place.
- New measurements will be developed to encourage the shift to electronic medical records and other e-vital statistics.
- The health sector will have the right data for monitoring and evaluating health services and for improving disease surveillance across borders.
- Technology will offer valuable opportunities to provide cost-efficient solutions for health service delivery.
- Asean will leapfrog to new technology applications in mobile and e-health.
Some new-world technologies are already at work in the Asean region. For example, Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital has deployed social integrated networks, using iPhone apps and Facebook. These applications connect with potential customers, and drive traffic to the hospital website for appointment bookings.
In hospital payments, the InfoComm Development Authority of Singapore has initiated a near-field communications (NFC) roll-out plan that allows medication to be purchased via NFC-enabled phones.
Deloitte reported that some countries are piloting wireless health trackers which rely on big data. These pilots are believed to be effective as the mobile penetration rate across Asia is already 82% and growing.
BI is already making a difference
“A large number of healthcare companies – particularly those in the retail healthcare space, such as pharmacies – are increasingly using BI, transforming aggregated raw data, and using it as a powerful tool to drive business decisions,” said Snehal Patel, director of corporate strategy at MyDoc.
“The role of data analytics is, in turn, driving the next iterations of product development. Mining and running analytical processing on all data amassed by healthcare companies is, however, still something of a novelty in Asian markets.”
According to Patel, who is a qualified medical doctor, large corporations, including insurance companies, are already helping to incentivise customers to share their health data in exchange for discounts.
One example is AIA’s Vitality programme. It transitioned from being a pure wellness, incentive-driven programme to a science-backed one that offers consumers more personalisation in their plans. It also serves as a great example of an initiative born from the company’s own collected data.
According to Tableau’s Pook, the healthcare industry has become one of the main beneficiaries of BI. For example, Intellipharm in Australia is using BI to help more than 4,000 pharmacies make intelligent, data-driven decisions, by taking huge volumes of data and representing them in a meaningful format.
Allergan, a multi-specialty healthcare company that operates in more than 100 countries, providing treatment options for patients in eye care, neurosciences, obesity intervention, medical aesthetics, medical dermatology and urologics, has been using BI tools to improve speed, efficiency and insight into the business.
“Ultimately, healthcare practitioners in Asia and all over the world are realising more and more that the sheer volume of data they have access to will only be of use to them with the help of BI tools. It is also the answer to help them advance within the industry,” said Pook.
“In the near future, we will also see a greater shift towards smart healthcare, with the region’s smart city/nation initiatives in place. Consumers will have more access to their healthcare information, through smart devices and e-learning or apps, and healthcare institutions will focus even more on data collection and analytics. Healthcare in Asia will only continue to improve with technology and BI,” he concluded.