For all the ways technology has transformed the way we operate during this unprecedented time, it has yet to make major inroads in the healthcare sector. In fact, according to L.E.K. Consulting’s 2021 APAC Hospital Priority Survey, only 25% of hospitals in Singapore, China and Australia are currently adopting digital health solutions. 

Be that as it may, COVID-19 has nonetheless spurred significant digital investment in healthcare across APAC, as nations grapple with new vulnerabilities in the healthcare system that were exposed by the pandemic. 

That being said, Singapore is the nation which has adopted the most accelerated digital approach in its healthcare industry, outpacing all other countries in the region. In fact, the attitudes of medical professionals in Singapore toward going digital surpasses even China, where 89% of hospitals are receptive to digital solutions, compared to Singapore’s 94%, despite China ranking medical technologies as its top strategic priority.

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In this article, we explore the emerging trends surrounding digital healthcare in Asia-Pacific with specific focus on Singapore, as well as some concerns surrounding the digital transformation, with reference to the 2021 APAC Hospital Priority Survey conducted by L.E.K. Consulting.

How digital health adoption accelerated during the pandemic

The pandemic, with its restrictions on patient mobility and accompanying risk aversion to hospitals, has brought about an increased acceptance of digital health for all stakeholders. As a result, as revealed by the survey findings, 65% of hospitals across APAC are increasing spending on hospital digitalization.

The threat of the virus transmission has kept people away from hospitals and instead become more receptive to digital alternatives such as teleconsultation. Furthermore, a fair amount of hospital staff training has had to go digital as well, as a measure to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Most importantly, there was a clear need for new approaches for COVID, from a treatment and prevention perspective. There has been an influx of investments towards digital technologies that are working towards the management of this pandemic. One such example is Pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur’s recent S$638 million investment to build a vaccine production centre in Singapore over the next 5 years. The new facility will tap digital health solutions and single-use systems (SUSs) in vaccine manufacturing. 

It comes as no surprise how Singapore is the nation which has adopted the most accelerated digital approach in its healthcare industry, outpacing all other countries in the region. Of all Singaporean hospitals, 94% are open to the adoption of digital solutions, such as robot-enabled surgery, stroke risk prediction algorithm and digital wound management and 90% seek more innovative drugs. These figures show great potential for what lies ahead for the nation’s healthcare system.

Innovative drugs are high in demand

Comparatively, only 60% of Japan hospital executives are open, or even aware of digital health solutions. The top 2 barriers for adoption in Japan are the issues of limited  budget to implement digital health solutions and a lack of evidence on what value digital health solutions bring. Seeing the benefits the adoption of digital health is bringing for its neighbouring regions, it is clear how beneficial this digital transformation is.

Nonetheless, concerns still remain, surrounding healthcare’s accelerated venture into the digital.

The concerns surrounding digital health solutions

Although hospitals around APAC are increasingly open to the adoption of digital health solutions, concerns still remain, such as the adjustment of the current standard of care, patient privacy breaches and the  difficulty of standardising and integrating different digital health solutions.

Adjusting the current standard of care

In the traditional care setting, patients would physically go to hospitals to receive care. Now, with care shifting away from hospitals and with increasing availability of newer solutions such as electrocardiogram-enabled smart watches, care can now be given while patients and physicians are physically apart. 

Given this shift, hospitals must adjust workflows and standard of care protocols to accommodate these changes. However, this adjustment will cause an inevitable strain for hospitals that are already struggling with COVID-19 treatment and containment. 

The threat of data leaks and patient privacy issues

Since the start of COVID-19, the healthcare world has seen an increase in cases of cybersecurity breaches. The pandemic has driven cybercriminals to escalate ransomware attacks against payers, providers and patients the past year, and given the increasing adoption of digital health solutions, the trend is expected to continue. 

Given past instances where data leaks had occurred in countries like Singapore and Australia before, digital health companies must pay extra attention to regulatory developments and real time prevention rather than responding to cybersecurity issues only when they actually happen.

Difficulty of standardising and integrating different digital health solutions

With each digital health company developing its own solution, some using their own proprietary system and some on different open systems, each is capturing and storing data in different ways. As such, the issue of compatibility arises.

Digital health solutions are wanted, but challenging to implement

Utilising different solutions prevents data integration and communication, which can be a hassle for hospitals. 

Therefore it is important for these various digital health providers to work together and maintain a system-wide standardised “picture” that ensures interoperability across different innovations . 

As digital health adoption continues to gain traction, medtech and pharma companies will need to continuously work with stakeholders to develop products and services and to address the key concerns surrounding digital health. 

This article was contributed by Fabio La Mola, a Partner in L.E.K. Consulting

About the author

Fabio La Mola is a Partner in L.E.K. Consulting’s Singapore office and Global Co-Head of the firm’s Healthcare sector, overseeing the Asia Pacific region. He is also Executive Director of L.E.K.’s Asia-Pacific Life Sciences Centre of Excellence. He has more than 20 years of experience across healthcare services and life sciences, strategy, and organization and performance. Fabio has advised many clients across Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. and also serves as an advisor for biotech to the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF) Central Gap Fund.

Fabio is a talented and dynamic business advisor and leads L.E.K. teams applying analytic techniques and delivering insights for clients to solve complex strategic issues. Fabio has strong experience presenting and building consensus at senior management and board levels, and providing coaching and development support to both clients and members of the firm.

Fabio also works with organizations on strategy development, go-to-market planning, product launches, portfolio optimization, commercial and operating model development, processes, operations and organizational efficiency.

Most recently, Fabio worked on novel business models for pharmaceutical and healthcare, including digital and health-tech.