From bricks to clicks: Steps for APAC’s move to virtual hospitals | Healthcare Asia Magazine
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From bricks to clicks: Steps for APAC’s move to virtual hospitals

Investing in virtual care models will be more affordable than building new hospital infrastructure.

Digital healthcare has transformed how health systems providers deliver patient outcomes such as removing waiting lines and accessing health expert needs remotely. But like traditional hospitals, creating a virtual version needs framework, infrastructure, and consideration.

Rebecca Kannourakis, associate partner at McKinsey & Company Limited, shared strategies to help markets in Asia and the Pacific create effective emergency or inpatient acute care environments in patients’ homes.

“It uses a combination of telemedicine or digital technologies, and in-person visits to provide high-quality hospital-grade care in the comfort of someone’s own home,” Kannourakis explained.

The first step is to evaluate the feasibility and attractiveness of establishing a virtual hospital. By doing this, the hospital can assess choices that make sense for each provider.

“A key part of this is looking at some characteristics that are largely driven by geography and these can include existing virtual and at-home care landscape in the geography that the provider operates in,” said Kannourakis.

This step, she said, is the trickiest one as some providers have not yet begun their journey of virtual care. At present, this new healthcare system is available in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India, and Australia. 

The second step is for providers to reimagine core patient journeys and establish the right success metrics and targets that comply with their missions and objectives.

This includes the hospital goals for patient adoption, experience, and outcomes, workforce, easy execution, and financial impact, explained Kannourakis.

The third step is planning to ramp up the process, which refers to the readiness to implement virtual care models. She said this requires consideration of governance systems, clinical pathways, provider partnerships, logistics, and technology.

“This considers the services they want to provide and the presence of other virtual care services, the maturity of clinical data systems, and making it a tangible plan for rollout to achieve what they say is their objectives,” she stressed.

The final step is increasing efforts as providers may aim to develop a plan to scale their services to promote long-term financial and non-financial benefits and evaluate change-management risks.

Improving patient experience

After building the virtual hospital, there are many benefits such as flexibility, convenience, comfort at home, faster recovery, and avoiding readmissions. But Kannourakis said each model should be tailored depending on the condition of each patient.
 
She cited as an example the case of an 80-year-old woman with cellulitis, a skin condition. Kannourakis said this condition needs a five-day traditional hospital visit but with a thorough screening process, the patient will need to be eligible before her physical visit.
 
“It involves looking at her home environment to make sure that it's suitable. For example, it has an internet connection to enable some of that important technology and then finally, that the patient is comfortable being in his home setting,” she explained.
 
Virtual hospitals have been proven effective in Australia and an example is the South Australian Child and Adolescent Virtual Urgent Care Centre which provided care to more than 2,000 patients in its first three months of operation, with almost 90% avoiding hospital visits.
 
“We can see that as an alternative to bricks and mortar hospitals. This at-home virtual care model is emerging as impactful,” she said.

Low-income markets

The cost of living has been taking a toll on how patients in Asia keep getting healthy and a 2022 National Library of Medicine study showed that developing nations such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka spend below 4% of their GDP on healthcare.
 
To resolve this problem of low funds when building a virtual hospital, Kannourakis advised that providers establish local partnerships and stakeholder engagement.
 
A comprehensive understanding of the healthcare landscape will be needed for a financially sustainable model, she added.
 
The McKinsey executive noted that virtual hospitals can also be a great investment as they keep addressing the high patient demand, it would be more cost-effective than building new hospital infrastructure.
 
“For example, in Australia, the virtual hospital unit costs approximately $1,000 (US$689) lower than comparable inpatient unit costs due to reductions in medical and other clinical labour costs so it’s important then for providers, in particular in low-income countries to think about the plan to scale,” said Kannourakis.

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