As part of the recent Perspective series that ran on Channel NewsAsia, I spoke about digital disruption and its impact on traditional modes of healthcare. Here is a summary of my thoughts.
It is my view that healthcare represents one of the last and most important digital frontiers. Digital health technology has the potential to streamline or consolidate fractured and complex patient journeys, particularly across the world’s emerging markets. In this way, digital healthcare technologies can affect a generational leap, overcoming the shortcomings of the physical analogue world and providing billions of people with access to life-saving medical information and treatments.
This may sound like strong talk, but it is increasingly clear that digital healthcare has the potential to narrow infrastructure gaps, increase access to diagnostics and primary treatment, improve the consistency and continuity of care and ensure that the patient has greater control over their treatment and medical histories.
A key feature of this transformation will be mobile technology, where there is ample evidence that the future is already here. Simply put, the high global penetration rates for smartphones and rapid growth of digital health technologies signals the future has arrived and it is mobile.
In Southeast Asia, for example, there are 339.2m Internet users – 53% of the population. However, there are 854m mobile subscriptions – that is 133% market penetration compared to 108% globally. The challenge is to maximise this massive potential.
Today, Smartphones are central to any eHealth strategy in mature and emerging healthcare markets where there is rapid growth and innovation. In countries where people often pay to see a doctor and regulatory frameworks are more able to adapt to technological change, there is faster growth and innovation. Meanwhile China, which is building 400 hospitals a year, saw its two largest venture capital investments in health last year. India is following suit.
The rise of smartphone apps will play an important role in the delivery of medical treatment to people, in the same way that delivery apps are disrupting service industries. Apps have the potential to narrow infrastructure and healthcare delivery gaps in emerging markets, supporting preventative healthcare strategies in important areas like hygiene and infectious diseases – an area where Mundipharma experiences strong results. In mature markets, there is significant potential and promise with the evolution of virtual and augmented reality platforms, haptic and wearable interfaces will drive a further level of innovation, firstly in the consumer technology sphere, with the healthcare sector having the ability to pick from the best innovation.
What’s more, eHealth will play an important part in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly at the points of intersection between health, water and sanitation and environment as an enabler and driver of change. There is a significant opportunity to collaborate across the public and private sectors.
While eHealth may not promise the immediate returns of, say, e-commerce or social media platforms, there is no doubt that it has the potential to enhance the delivery of healthcare information to every human and can become a core utility in the same way as Facebook has.
In my view, eHealth is to be embraced and nurtured as a way to extend the reach of modern healthcare to consumers. It has the enormous potential to turbo-charge primary healthcare strategies and make a substantial mark on the world.