KUALA LUMPUR, Experts speaking at the ASEAN Roundtable Series on Smart Showcase Series: ASEAN Healthcare Dialogue on the topic Making Digital Healthcare Affordable and Accessible in ASEAN 4.0 concurred reforms in healthcare are needed to facilitate the adoption of new and innovative technology.

Digital healthcare has the potential to reduce redundant medical costs, increase efficiencies, detect the onset of life-threatening diseases earlier and ultimately reduce overall healthcare expenditure. The use of artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotics and the internet-of-things (IoT) can assist ASEAN in achieving its Post-2015 Health Development Agenda's vision of a healthy, caring and sustainable ASEAN community.

The roundtable, headlined by Deputy Health Minister of Malaysia YB Dr Lee Boon Chye, was organised by CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) in collaboration with the ASEAN-BAC Malaysia Healthcare Working Group. The exclusive dialogue was held alongside the ASEAN Health Summit & Exhibition which was held at Perdana Hall, MITI Tower, from 20-21 November 2019.

Digital healthcare has the potential to greatly transform the way healthcare is accessed and delivered. It will also empower individuals and communities to play a vital role in taking care of their wellbeing, leading to better population health, said health minister Datuk Seri Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad.

ASEAN comprised of a mix of nations with different development stages in healthcare systems and healthcare priorities. However, as a regional bloc, ASEAN remains committed to the goals of the agenda - the development of a robust healthcare industry capable of providing improved healthcare facilities, products and services that meet the region's rising demand for affordable and quality healthcare as envisioned in the AEC 2025 Blueprint.

Intelligent technologies play a big role in how healthcare can democratise data, generate better operational efficiency, and provide a better experience for patient care. The utilisation of these technologies in ASEAN healthcare can provide value-based care and operational efficiency to healthcare providers and improve the overall healthcare experience for patients that will further improve people's lives, said Hazmin Abdul Rahim, SAP Public Services Director for SAP Malaysia.

To attain sustainable and affordable healthcare in ASEAN, policymakers will need to plan for the region's growing population, as well as the transition of member countries to ageing nations at varying speed. In 2018, ASEAN's population reached 650 million people and is estimated to rise to more than 790 million by 2050. In addition, by 2050, more than one-fifth of the region's population will be over 60 years old.[1]

By 2025, ASEAN healthcare spending is expected to reach US$269 billion, which is more than the estimated size of the internet economy of US$240 billion.2 Having sustainable financing would ensure affordable healthcare is accessible to all. This is in line with ASEAN's commitment to strengthen primary healthcare in order to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) among its members. We must ensure health care financing model is sustainable in the long run, said Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of CARI and ASEAN-BAC Malaysia.

ASEAN's healthcare expenditure in 2016 was US$99 billion, which was equivalent to 1.3% of world healthcare expenditure. Healthcare expenditure per capita in the region was US$113 in 2010 and is projected to rise 3.2 times to US$364.7 by 2025.[3]

Healthcare spend in Malaysia is around 4.5% of the country's GDP but it is less than the healthcare expenditure of upper-middle-income countries. Malaysia's regional neighbours' spend was marginally higher in 2015: Singapore (5%), Vietnam (7%), Thailand (7%). For developed countries, healthcare expenditure is a lot higher: Japan (10%), US (17%) and France (12%).[4]

ASEAN policymakers have myriad options for the scale, design, and implementation of their countries' health systems. The choices they make will naturally affect the physical and mental health of their populations, which will, in turn, affect economic well-being, social equity, and fiscal stability, and ultimately determine health system sustainability, opined Prof. David Bloom, Professor of Health Economics and Demography, Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Global Health, Harvard University.

One option for policymakers to consider is to have better public-private collaboration to push for standards harmonisation and sustainable access to medicines across ASEAN.

Partnership with a diverse set of stakeholders will lead to more sustainable healthcare systems in Malaysia and across the ASEAN region. Multi-stakeholder cooperation is critical in addressing the health and social challenges at hand, scaling and widening access to innovation, said Franck Perraudin, Asia Head, External Affairs & Public Affairs, Sanofi.

The two-day event featured over 40 speakers from ASEAN and the international healthcare sector discussing current trends in the digital healthcare industry and 30 exhibitors presenting the latest healthcare innovations. The Roundtable is the third instalment of the Smart Showcase Series spearheaded by ASEAN-BAC Malaysia and partners.

About CARI

[1] Ibid.

[2] ASEAN and UNCTAD, ASEAN Investment Report 2019, October 2019.

[3] ASEAN and UNCTAD, ASEAN Investment Report 2019, October 2019.

[4] EU-ABC, Driving Comprehensive Healthcare Policy in ASEAN, June 2019.

CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) was established in 2011 by CIMB Group. CARI is the first independent, transnational research institute dedicated solely to the advancement and acceleration of ASEAN integration.

Source: NAM News Network