Why Asian healthcare providers should focus on digital training for the workforce
A digital healthcare expert cited Singapore’s e-training for health workers as the best example.
When there was a disruption of virtual health and care during the two-year strict healthcare, Asian healthcare providers did not take a step back in ramping up their medical innovation by enforcing hybrid models of healthcare treatment. A 2021 McKinsey report showed that digital health in Asia could create up to $100b in value in the next three years, up from $37b in 2020.
But for the non-profit firm, Novartis Foundation, simply tapping technology is not enough. Countries are expected to implement clear policies to make sure there is equal and inclusive access to virtual services for patients all over their population.
This was what Dr. Ann Aerts, head of Novartis Foundation, tackled in their 2022 joint report with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The study found that every nation in the Asia Pacific needs to advance its preparedness in deploying digital care through an inclusive policy framework of six main pillars. These pillars include governance and regulation, design and processes, data and technology, business models, people and workforce, and partners and stakeholders.
“These six pillars. They range from governance, where you talk about licencing liability, to data and infrastructure which is very good in Singapore already, to people and workforce,” said Aerts in an interview with Healthcare Asia.
Although these six pillars are equally needed, Aerts said much has to be done for improving digital skills for the workforce in Asia.
The McKinsey report also indicated that the average number of doctors per 1,000 people in the region is lower than the OECD average. The WHO also found that there is a global shortage of nine million nurses, some of the most affected are in Asia.
“Asia has been adopting virtual health and care, very rapidly and largely, so I do feel that one of the very important pillars is the people and workforce’s digital skills,” she said.
She noted Singapore’s e-training and telehealth provision for healthcare professionals as one of the best examples of enhancing the healthcare workforce.
“It's true that not every healthcare professional is as digitally savvy as every other person. You also need to ensure that people from all population groups have access to the services when they are delivered virtually. I can imagine in Asia, the rapidly ageing population may be one of the specific groups to target with digital upskilling, for example,” Aerts pointed out.
In 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) offered a telemedicine course to guide doctors on delivering telehealth services, which will prioritise patient safety.
Who should be liable
Telemedicine services in the Asia Pacific have increased to provide remote healthcare services to patients. A Bain & Company study showed that telehealth use in the Asia Pacific region doubled since 2019.
Aerts said identifying the liability of healthcare professionals in case of a misdiagnosis or device malfunction is still unclear everywhere in the world.
To resolve this, Aerts said there must be a governance system in place to ensure quality assurance for healthcare professionals who provide virtual services.
For instance, Germany set guidelines on telehealth services and circumstances that doctors are liable for.
In the Novartis-WHO report, Germany put in place the Digital Healthcare Act 2019 and Digital Health Application Ordinance 2020 to determine the liability for incorrect or incomplete information or malfunction.
Amongst the notable provisions in Germany’s policies is the doctor will be “rarely blamed” if they do not know or did not have knowledge of the risk in question if there is an unforeseeable malfunction of the app.
Germany’s policies also indicate that manufacturers may be liable for possible breach of duty in publishing adequate instructions when a patient incorrectly uses an app.
“It's very important to clarify this liability question, which standards do telehealth services have to apply to? When is the doctor responsible for a failure or mistreatment or misdiagnosis,” said Aerts.
Helping low-income population
Asked about which market in Asia enforced good policies for adopting virtual care, Aerts cited healthcare innovations in China, such as the Ping An Good Health.
The Teleconsultation app, Ping An Good Health, previously Ping An Good Doctor, conducted 900 million consultations daily in more than 300 Chinese cities. The platform’s users went up 70% between the first quarters of 2020 and 2021.
“Everything is delivered online, both the consultation, whether it's in an internet hospital, or an internet health centre, or an internet pharmacy, and you get your treatment delivered that home,” said Aerts.
“I think these examples are something where we have to all look up at and learn from because it covers entire populations with a health plan with access to a doctor, wherever and whenever they need it,” she added.
Aside from China, the report cited India’s My Healthline, an interactive voice response helpline, which offered mental and general health services to marginalised sectors.