How Southeast Asian healthcare providers resolve cost pressures | Healthcare Asia Magazine
, Southeast Asia

How Southeast Asian healthcare providers resolve cost pressures

Markets are experimenting with single-specialty care and ambulatory care centres.


Spending on healthcare in Southeast Asia is rising amidst inflation and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases. The 2020 INSEAD study showed that the region’s healthcare expenditure will grow to US$740b by 2025. Hospitals are coping with this by investing in single-specialty hospitals. TE Asia Healthcare Partners, for instance, established the ALTY Orthopaedic Hospital in Malaysia, which focuses on orthopaedic care. 

Boston Consulting Group partner, Anurag Agrawal sees single-specialty care as a way to combat cost pressures amidst international political conflict.

Agrawal said even as the reopening of borders revived elective surgeries and medical tourism, which were suspended during the pandemic, recessionary pressures and inflationary pressures could pose risks to healthcare providers’ operations.

“Some of the global conflicts that we see are their supply chain disruptions and these have persisted since COVID-19 times, as economies have boomed and as demand has come back, the supply chains and global value chains have been phenomenal,” said Agrawal, who has 13 years of experience in healthcare consulting across Southeast Asia, the US, Europe, and India

“We see some of these challenges playing out leading to cost pressures on many healthcare players,” he added.

Aside from single-specialty care, he said tapping ambulatory care centres can also help mitigate cost issues.

“We see [health] providers experimenting more with ambulatory care and with single-specialty care, which allows providers to mitigate the full cost of serving patients in a tertiary care facility and ensures that patients can still be served within the same quality but in a step-down or in a facility, which provides similar care, but at a significantly controlled cost,” said Agrawal.

An example of ambulatory care centres was adopted by Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore, where they used these daycare surgery centres to conduct elective surgeries that were halted during the pandemic. It allowed them to provide elective surgeries in ambulatory care centres whilst attending to COVID-19 patients in their main hospital.

“Patients would perhaps want to visit healthcare facilities only for the most severe ailments but would want to visit the local ambulatory care setting for some of the relatively minor ailments,” said Agrawal.

Phygital to move forward 

During the pandemic, Agrawal underscored the shift from traditional healthcare treatment to digitisation.

“The first of which is a change in care models. Traditionally, healthcare has been delivered in hospitals. It has been delivered physically in person with doctors interacting with patients. What COVID has done is, once it has moved this physical healthcare towards virtual or I would say phygital healthcare, a mix of physical and digital,” he said.

Another consultancy group, Bain & Company, found that telehealth adoption in the Asia-Pacific region has doubled since 2019.

But Agrawal said massive uptake in digital health has “tempered down,” allowing a shift in physical and digital or phygital healthcare treatment.

On digital healthcare, Dr. Ann Aerts, head of non-profit group, Novartis Foundation, cited the best practices of Singapore where “digital and data infrastructure is well-developed.”

“That's a big, big strength because many other countries are still lagging behind,” Aerts said.

She also underscored how the government in the Lion City required healthcare professionals to comply with online training on telehealth consultations.

In 2020, the Ministry of Health in Singapore offered a telemedicine course to guide doctors on delivering telehealth services, which will focus on patient safety.

The latest study from Bain & Company showed that more than 90% of consumers in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore are seeking a single touchpoint to coordinate their healthcare needs in 2021.

Whilst the digital expectation is being served by primary care markets in China and Indonesia, some consumers in Singapore still want physical clinic visits.

“In these markets, digital healthcare isn’t replacing established systems, but rather, it’s enabling more connected, hybrid experiences,” Bain & Company said.

To optimise cost and efficiencies for healthcare providers, Bain & Company said healthcare should adopt offline-to-online models to improve patient experiences.

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