Telehealth: Just What The Doctor Ordered

Two things seem to be generating a lot of interest in Indonesia right now; the digital eco-system and health care, which is why an article written by Nana Shibata and Ismi Damayanti, staff writers for Nikkei Asia, is worth a closer look.

They argue that Indonesia’s geography has hindered access to fast and efficient health care, with many people in outlying areas being denied access to even the most rudimentary medical facilities.

However, the development of digital platforms and Apps offering telemedicinal services could be just what the doctor ordered; Alodokter is one such App and it has over 80,000 affiliated physicians involved offering online consultations, while Halodoc has around 20-million active monthly users, say Nikkei Asia.

It’s a trend becoming popular in other Southeast Asian countries, spurred by increasing demand for health care and a shortage of doctors in a region approaching 700-million people, write Shibata and Damayanti.

They contend that increasing smartphone use has allowed Southeast Asians to experience the convenience of on-demand App services in ride-hailing, food delivery, e-commerce and a range of other businesses, a trend accelerated by COVID. Telehealth is no exception.

Singapore’s Doctor Anywhere is a good example, which aims to acquire Asian Healthcare Specialists (AHS) who have more than 10-facilities providing services, so after a teleconsultation, Doctor Anywhere can send patients needing a hospital visit to one of the AHS medical facilities. While the Philippines has announced it would consolidate three health care companies into one health-tech super App, which is expected to go live by the end of Q1/ 2023, say Nikkei Asia.

According to Shibata and Damayanti, Indonesia’s Halodoc aims to increase the number of active monthly users to 100-million in the coming years, pegging “strategic countries” Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia for expansion, As of December 2022, Halodoc’s medicine delivery business was delivering prescriptions to 400-cities across the archipelago. Patients in 120 of those cities, the company says, can receive their medicine within 15-minutes of placing an order.

The Nikkei Asia article goes on to say that telemedicine helps health care systems in the region deal with the lack of doctors as populations rise. Indonesia, for example, had 6.95-physicians per 10,000-people in 2021, below Thailand’s 9.28 in 2020 and Myanmar’s 7.51 in 2019, according to the World Health Organization. At the other end of the scale, there were 35.55-physicians per 10,000 people in the U.S. as of 2020 and 26.14 in Japan. In China, the figure was 23.87 in 2020.

According to the WHO’s global health expenditure database, Indonesia’s health expenditure came to USD 36-billion in 2020, which is an increase of 71-percent from 2010, while Thailand’s nearly doubled to USD 22-billion during the same time frame. Medical spending in other Southeast Asian countries has also increased dramatically, say Nikkei Asia.

An alternative type of Healthcare App is another Indonesian initiative, Klinik Pintar, which not only offers health teleconsulting, but also believes physical clinics also play an important role.

Nikkei Asia report that Harya Bimo, CEO of Klinik Pintar, believes those who live in big cities tend to TeleConsult with their doctors via online chats, while patients in remote areas have less access to such services. Also, many blue-collar workers are still not familiar with technology and web-based services, which is why Klinik Pintar is trying to bridge the gap between online and offline services and develop a hybrid concept.

Issues around data security are, of course, critical to resolve, but it is encouraging that Telehealth Apps and hybrid initiatives combining technology with traditional clinics are being developed and the conversation is happening as this will have a positive impact on the nation’s health.

Source: Nikkei Asia

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