The use of digital health by healthcare organizations accelerated over the past year in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One clear example is telehealth being normalized as a means of delivering care to ensure that physical and social distancing guidelines are adhered to. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg in the utilization of health technologies, and healthcare organizations are well aware that these solutions will be necessary even in the post COVID-19 period.
We wanted to get a gauge of digital health developments in the Asia Pacific region, which is why the HIMSS Asia Pacific digital health survey was conducted with industry professionals from multiple countries. We gained insight into key priorities, challenges faced, and evaluated trends that will impact the region in the year ahead.
The Asia Pacific digital health market was valued at USD 14.1 billion in 2019 and is expected to witness 32.9% Compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2020 to 2026, according to an industry report by Graphical Research.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of health technologies worldwide and the Asia Pacific region is no exception. Based on the healthcare organizations surveyed, top priorities include examples such as telehealth, remote/virtual care and enterprise adoption/upgrading of EHR/EMR systems.
Seventy-five percent of the survey respondents also expect improvement in business expectations for digital health in the region.
The two main challenges for more than half of the healthcare organizations surveyed across the region are that of finding skilled employees, and funding and costs. For the former, rapidly aging populations in countries such as Singapore make it more difficult to replace those who age out of the health workforce itself.
Aging populations also increase the scale and costs of healthcare needs, which puts more pressure on healthcare providers already facing manpower and budget constraints. The deliberate and effective use of digital tools can potentially alleviate these constraints, although the initial investment might be costly and take considerable time to scale up.
Singapore, South Korea and Australia are perceived as the top three role model countries for digital health, according to the survey data. For Singapore and South Korea, this is due to the respective governments’ forward approach towards understanding the value of digital health technologies.
Both countries have also made considerable long-term investment in healthcare infrastructure, as seen with their tech-centered approach in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. In Singapore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), the largest hospital under the National Healthcare Group, utilized a command, control and communications system that sense, think and respond to optimize patient flow and care delivery, thus helping them manage a huge surge of suspected COVID-19 patients during the peak of the pandemic in mid-2020.
Most healthcare professionals that were surveyed felt that there will be improvement in the innovation and investment environment in their respective countries for 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed digital health into the mainstream, and it is no longer thought of as pilot projects or something that is good to have.
With countries in the region experiencing fresh waves of COVID-19 outbreaks, the use of digital tools such as telemedicine, remote monitoring and virtual care remain essential to alleviate the workloads of caregivers, and keep both patients and caregivers safe.
Eighty-seven percent of all surveyed organizations ranked IT security and data privacy as their main priorities in the next 12 months. Healthcare organizations were already vulnerable to cyberattacks even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, Singapore’s SingHealth cluster experienced a massive data breach in 2018, which saw hackers illegally accessing 1.5 million Singapore patient records. The cybercriminals initially breached a front-end workstation to gain privileged account credentials to obtain privileged access into the database.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to affect countries worldwide, the number of cyberattacks detected at hospitals increased by almost 60% from one month to the next early in the pandemic, according to Bitdefender telemetry. Although the findings from the survey are not meant to be exhaustive, it is clear that amongst the respondents, cybersecurity remains a top priority in light of continued attacks and data breaches in the industry.
Overall, workforce development and the manpower crunch is a challenge healthcare organizations are looking to overcome, especially as Asia Pacific grapples with its ageing populations. Digital health will ultimately continue to grow even after the pandemic is over, but it is imperative that the momentum for its adoption must continue to be sustained or even accelerated to improve medical outcomes and enhance efficiency.
Our Asia Pacific digital health survey provides an understanding on the state of developments across the region—specifically with regard to key priorities, challenges and trends.