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Digitalization of PHL health sector held back by red tape

ALEXANDER SINN-UNSPLASH

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

DIGITAL health technologies can lighten the economic burden of healthcare in the Philippines, according to a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving healthcare through innovation.

“You should invest in digital health because you will get the outcomes economically that you desire,” Andrew Pearce, analytics and advisory lead at Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of a recent Taiwan Health Expo held in Taipei.

“The more digitally mature you are, you get a great return on investment in terms of improved outcomes for people, they go to hospitals less, they are less of a burden on the economy in terms of their presence in hospitals or the care they need,” he added. “They are able to work and contribute to society more when they’re well, so you need to keep them well for the improvement of the economy.”

The Chicago-based global advisor seeks to reform the global health ecosystem by offering its expertise on health innovation, public policy, workforce development, research and digital health transformation.

“My advice for the Philippines would be to get the courage to set a goal around digital maturity across the whole of the country, set a standard that you would like to achieve … and to work towards that,” Mr. Pearce said.

HIMSS is working on a study with the Australian government to acquire data on the health economic outcomes linked to the improvement of digital maturity investment.

The five-year study, Mr. Pearce said, will “prove beyond doubt that there is a wonderful return economically by improving digital healthcare” to persuade more governments across the globe to prioritize technological advancements in the industry.

LEFT BEHINDPrivate Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PHAPi) President Jose Rene D. de Grano said the inner workings of the Philippines, however, are too political.

“In terms of the healthcare system, doctors can talk to other doctors well on medicine, about digital health, changes, but then when it passes through the different government agencies, sometimes they want to control it, that’s the problem,” he told BusinessWorld during the same forum.

Even the procurement of equipment has to pass through the Department of Health, he added, which leads to more paperwork and possible delays. “The government should be less strict to promote growth in digital health.”

The expo made obvious the gap between the healthcare industries of the Philippines and Taiwan, said Mr. De Grano.

“You’ll see that we’re really left behind. In terms of the new technologies, we’re really lost right now,” he said. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to use these technologies.”

“It might not be that hard if we can have good collaboration and coordination between Taiwan and the Philippines, and I hope it will happen sooner than later,” he added.

Mr. Pearce, meanwhile, said that there are a number of private hospitals in the Philippines that are already digitally mature.

“The challenge is how we can advance digital maturity across the public health system as well, and that requires a different focus and a focus by the government at a country level,” Mr. Pearce said.

HIMSS is working with one major private hospital group in the Philippines.

“We’d love to have a similar conversation with the Philippine government as well about how we can really drive that digital maturity improvement using global standards across everyone in the country,” Mr. Pearce added.

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