As markets in 2020 shook and entire populations stayed indoors, health systems across the globe had no choice but to put their best foot forward like never before. In a moment of great upheaval, challenged by an as-yet-unknown disease, one would not have thought that adversity would bear many fruits for Asia Pacific’s healthcare industry today.
Two years later, the region’s healthcare ecosystem is on a strong path of reform, owing to its ability to constantly evolve by tapping on the next wave of innovation to drive efficiencies. Against this backdrop, Southeast Asia’s eHealth sector is expected to grow by 10 times until 2025. Much of this is being driven by initiatives to make the healthcare journey more affordable, accessible, and convenient, and by placing patients at the center of it all. As we foray into the new year, technology will undoubtedly continue to play a big part in empowering health systems across the globe.
However, it does not stop here. The ongoing shift to digital healthcare systems comes alongside other transformative changes, and 2023 holds immense promise for Asia Pacific’s healthcare industry. Here are some of the key trends that will impact the region’s healthcare industry this year:
The industry’s dramatic pivot to a more digitalized healthcare system over the last few years was driven by force and not design. While industry players were already looking for ways to further embrace technology within healthcare solutions, the pandemic led us to quickly rethink how healthcare was administered to patients as well, leading to the blurring of lines between technology and health that we see today.
One example is the greater acceptance of telemedicine and remote monitoring as an effective substitute for routine, in-person checks. Digital technologies that were previously associated with corporate use have not only revolutionized how people access healthcare but also brought relief to over-stretched workers in hospitals and clinics everywhere.
In addition, once-futuristic ideas such as artificial intelligence-enabled medical devices and blockchain electronic health records are also now seen as increasingly practical technologies supporting this headway. This integration and implementation of innovative healthcare solutions are helping enhance provider workflows by streamlining physicians’ work, optimizing systems, improving patient outcomes, reducing human error, and lowering costs.
Most importantly, this allows us to create an ecosystem that revolves around the continuum of care where healthcare providers follow a patient from preventive care, through medical incidents, recovery, and rehabilitation. The coordinated efforts, in tandem with HealthTech solutions, will result in better outcomes for patients in the long run.
With the increased access to data and insights that digital technologies bring, people will now be able to take control of their health like never before. Already, we are seeing markets like Singapore moving towards a model of self-accountability when it comes to preventative healthcare for an aging population.
On the other hand, for markets like Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia, getting access to quality healthcare can often be challenging, in comparison to more developed markets in the region. Therein lies an opportunity for healthcare providers to extend the abovementioned continuum of care and go “beyond the pill”.
Such models of patient-centered healthcare, where healthcare practitioners aim to empower patients to manage their health while optimizing care beyond the primary institution, can range from remote monitoring devices to nurse educator programs.
The latter aims to bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and patients. For example, patients who require long-term injectable medication are inclined to have lower adherence rates due to the fear of having to self-inject. The nurse educator program teaches the patient to self-inject, giving them the confidence to do this by themselves and ultimately improving adherence rates.
Centering healthcare services around the patient will ultimately improve outcomes for both patients and the healthcare ecosystem. As we step further into 2023, we expect more providers and patients to embrace “beyond the pill” services.
COVID-19 made a significant dent in healthcare expenditures for governments across the globe and financial pressures continue to mount. Singapore is no exception, with national healthcare spending expected to rise from SGD 11.3 billion today to about SGD 27 billion by 2030, making up the bulk of increases in government social spending as the population ages.
This is driving a mindset shift towards the acquisition and delivery of medications and other healthcare products, and the role they play in helping to deliver quality care, but at affordable prices.
We are now seeing a stronger push toward encouraging the prescription of generic medications, which will continue into 2023. In some markets, these can be up to 85 percent cheaper than branded alternatives, providing a more affordable option without sacrificing quality. Asia Pacific holds similar opportunities, with stakeholders placing a keen focus on increasing the procurement of medications at more affordable prices.
This presents an opportunity for organizations like DKSH to help bring balance to the market, aiding pharma markets in achieving efficiencies in their top and bottom lines. This is especially the case for markets such as Vietnam and Indonesia, where local authorities posit a preference towards locally manufactured products.
Health systems are bound by a finite sum of dollars and they must consider the different ways to stretch their dollar, whilst at the same time offering quality and effective care for their patient populations. Achieving a balance between quality and value will therefore become a key consideration for stakeholders within the space.
During the pandemic, governments and health regulators were approving products from vaccinations and medical peripherals at speeds that would typically take much longer than mere weeks or months.
As we prepare for the next pandemic or epidemic, risk-based regulatory decisions and interventions will be vital to coordinate access to safe, effective, and timely healthcare.
Moving forward, regulatory bodies, at both global and regional levels, must work as an integral part of wider public health systems. For example, consortiums such as the ACSS (comprising four regulatory health authorities across Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and Singapore), allow health product developers to simultaneously file a joint application to all four regulators and receive a consolidated set of queries.
The pandemic gave a new impetus for the further harmonization of regulatory dossiers at a global or regional level. Continuing this will bolster the industry’s progress and advancement of healthcare for all.
Healthcare reform in the Asia Pacific has made significant headways since the dawn of the pandemic. From the advent of HealthTech, a renewed focus on preventative care, to stronger multi-regional collaboration to deliver quality care to the hands of the people, it is safe to say that the last two years yielded many wins for the healthcare industry, despite the adversity it presented.
With the darkest days of the pandemic hopefully behind us, we now stand in a new era of healthcare that will ultimately lead to a more sustainable healthcare ecosystem for all.
Dr. Varun Sethi is currently the Vice President, Business Unit Healthcare for DKSH Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. He is a board member of the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA) since 2015 and serves as the Treasurer of the Board. He began his career in DKSH as the General Manager for Business Unit Healthcare in Myanmar and had successfully run the business for three years, prior to moving to Malaysia.
Dr Varun has more than 18 years of experience in the diversified healthcare arena specializing in product launches, key business unit management, and setting up and managing new businesses entities in key emerging markets in Asia. He has a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago, United States. He also holds an Executive Scholar Certificate in Sales and Marketing from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, US.