Fixing the Philippines’ Healthcare Challenges via Digitization

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#Special Report

In the Philippines, the healthcare industry face many issues such as rising costs, changing medical needs, and lack of infrastructure.

Due to this they are sacrificing the quality of services being offered to patients.

Even some patients do not receive any healthcare service at all.

A strategic advisory firm having its presence in Asia, YCP Solidiance, released a white paper themed ‘Can Digitization Fix the Philippines’ Healthcare Challenges’.

Overall, they see a growing momentum and a positive outlook for digital healthcare in the Philippines.

Lack of Infrastructure

Healthcare in the Philippines is growing to be more Complex, Costly, and Constrained by Lack of Infrastructure.

Similar to what is happening in other Asian countries, the rise of technology has affected the lifestyles of Filipinos. Filipinos are working longer hours, eating more processed food, and are increasingly getting exposed to pollution.

This change in lifestyle translates to higher risk for diseases and other health conditions, effectively increasing demand for healthcare.

In 2016, the prevalence of communicable diseases (CDs) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for every 100,000 population were 82,024 and 91,189, respectively.

The Philippines has the highest prevalence rate for communicable diseases among its Southeast Asian neighbors while it ranks second to Thailand in terms of non-communicable diseases.

The increasing prevalence and complexity of diseases and other health conditions in the Philippines lead to rising healthcare costs.

Total health expenditure grew from PHP 593 billion in 2015 to PHP 712 billion in 2017, which translates to an increase of 20% in just a span of two years.

This growth trend has been evident since 2012, in which per capita health expenditure growth surpassed per capita GDP growth.

Healthcare providers are also facing challenges in healthcare delivery. There are only about 1,224 hospitals in the country, 35% of which are government hospitals.

These hospitals are not enough to attend to the country’s population of about 108 million people. To address the lack of hospitals and rural health units, barangay health stations are put up.

However, these facilities do not have the same equipment and resources that hospitals have.

In terms of coverage, 64% of the total hospitals are concentrated in Luzon, where the National Capital Region is located.

Other regions in Visayas and Mindanao have fewer than 100 hospitals each. Because the country is an archipelago with more than 7,000 islands, healthcare providers find it difficult to reach farther, more remote areas.

Both public and private healthcare stakeholders recognize the need for alternative solutions to providing healthcare access to all.

The Universal Healthcare (UHC) Act

In the midst of rising healthcare challenges and risks, the government is already taking steps to mitigate them.

The Universal Healthcare (UHC) Act, signed by the President on February 20, 2019, creates a positive outlook for the industry and the entire nation by promising access to quality healthcare for all Filipinos.

It is meant to address the country’s highly fragmented and private sector-driven system by providing a comprehensive solution.

The timely and focused implementation of this law remains to be seen as the Implementing Rules and Regulations are still being developed.

Furthermore, there are certain mechanisms that must be in place so that compliance to regulations can be ensured.

Centralized database of patient data

One of these is a centralized database of patient data where all clinical and transactional information can be accessed and shared among the regulating bodies, the healthcare providers and financers and the patients themselves.

In order to feed data into the central database, all healthcare stakeholders should be able to digitize their own systems.

Digitization is already making its way in the Philippine healthcare sector through healthcare providers – establishing health information systems, utilizing electronic patient records, and offering online services to patients and automating certain operational processes.

Similar developments are seen in healthcare payments, such as the digitization of health reimbursements between hospitals and HMOs.

A thorough scan of the industry indicates that most digitization initiatives have three main goals: efficiency, accessibility, and research and development.

It is through the achievement of these three objectives that healthcare stakeholders can create the most value for their customers.

Digitization improves efficiency by cutting down the time and resources needed to complete certain processes and tasks. Utilizing fewer resources and workforce effectively reduces the cost for healthcare providers while maintaining the quality of their service.

Digitization provides an alternative means for healthcare providers to reach their patients. Using online portals and applications, patients can receive health services without going to a physical health facility.

In addition, firms can also use applications to better equip their staff with knowledge and skills. This addresses the limited infrastructure and logistical challenges the industry is currently facing.

To be continued – Part 2: Barriers to Digitization