Unlocking the potential of precision health
As economies begin the long process of recovery and reopening, Asia finds itself at the crossroads of resuming life amid Covid-19 while at the same time, using technology to improve healthcare delivery.
Public and private healthcare providers are looking to continue making use over the longer term of the digitally connected equipment, data integration and digital solutions adopted during the pandemic.
However, the road to the new normal is a rocky path and will comprise several phases, each with its own set of challenges. In Thailand, vaccination deployment has been slow due to limited supplies, but the pace has picked up in recent weeks with 13 million people or 19% of the population having received at least one shot.
Vaccination programmes provide a glimmer of hope that normality of some sort may resume. These programmes, along with breakthroughs enabled by the accelerated pace of innovation will better equip countries to face the new challenges that mutating Covid variants pose to global health systems.
The pandemic has greatly accelerated the reliance on technology and adoption of virtual care services such as teleconsultations to reduce in-person contact and ensure the safety of both patients and caregivers.
Patients with non-critical conditions can expect to continue consulting medical professionals remotely, and have their medication delivered to them. Medical professionals, likewise, will adopt new ways of working, using technology in different ways to help them achieve better outcomes, efficient workflows, and uphold stricter safety standards.
Delivering high standards of care is not without its challenges. Healthcare providers need to ensure financial viability while managing unpredictable patient demand. This calls for new solutions driven by minimising waste, which results in a win-win situation for both medical professionals and their patients.
Healthcare has never been more accessible or intelligent. At the same time, it has also never been under more pressure, from rising costs to ageing populations. This has pushed precision health to the forefront, an approach that is integrated, efficient and highly personalised for each patient.
If implemented well and at scale, precision health could play a key role in achieving healthcare's triple aim: better quality, at lower cost, and with access for millions of people.
Building the foundation for precision health begins with providers studying an individual's biological, environmental and behavioural information to understand their unique disease risks, or treatments that would best suit them.
The precision care approach reimagines medicine to focus on predicting, preventing and curing disease precisely. This marks a shift away from the traditional approach of treatment and management to one focused on early detection and prevention.
Even as the pandemic has pushed healthcare systems around the world to their limits, the continual advancements in smart wearables, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), could enable a future where healthcare is seamless and automated, holding huge potential for better health outcomes, life expectancy and quality of life.
Care does not end at the hospital. A patient-centric design is key for patients to get the continuous standard of care provided in the hospital, with more convenience.
In Thailand, a med-tech startup, Doctor A to Z, has been gaining strong traction for its virtual care platform, which seamlessly connects remote patients to specialists for consultations on cancer, gastrointestinal issues and numerous other conditions, simply through their mobile app.
Looking to the future, practitioners will continue to expand the possibilities of precision health by exploring new methods of healthcare delivery such as CT in Box, where a self-contained CT unit can be set up remotely in virtually any location. This would enable makeshift screening centres in locations that previously could not accommodate such scanners.
We will also see the rise of smarter equipment. For instance, CT scanners with AI capabilities, now available in Thailand, can automatically detect the scan area so that manual positioning of the patient is not required. This not only improves operational efficiency and the patient's experience but minimises physical contact between a radiologist and patient as we work around Covid restrictions.
Partnerships, digital health solutions and data-driven systems will increasingly be used to supercharge healthcare delivery in a post-pandemic Asia. Various forms of partnerships emerged globally during the pandemic. From cross-industry alliances to increase ventilator production globally to partnerships between startups and large multinationals, innovations are reaching customers more efficiently.
We have also worked with several Thai hospitals to introduce a hybrid concept that streamlines patient workflow, delivering an improved patient experience overall. Going forward, Thai patients can expect more hospitals to offer a care-based approach in areas such as cardiology, oncology and more, an approach that is more holistic and personalised than access to an isolated healthcare service such as a CT or cardiac scan.
With these goals in mind, it is crucial that providers of medical technology and infrastructure continue supporting healthcare providers as they build up their care area capabilities.
Given that precision health is still in its infancy, it will require a supporting infrastructure, the right skills, investment and partnerships across the entire healthcare ecosystem. Given the resurgence of the pandemic in many parts of the world, finding ways to support public health efforts remains an urgent goal.
As we learn more about Covid-19, it may be possible to consider more targeted ways of preventing and treating infections. "Precise" interventions will be increasingly necessary to complement efforts in strengthening public health infrastructure and addressing fundamental social, economic and environmental causes of illness.
Julien Didron is country manager of GE Healthcare in Thailand.