Health technology (healthtech) has made significant strides worldwide, with every nation adopting various healthtech solutions to address public health and wellness challenges. Healthtech in Southeast Asia has grown about four times since the region accelerated its digital transformation drive to digitalise every industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic spread.

More healthtech innovations started emerging to democratise access to digital patient support solutions. There were now options for telemedicine, online health insurance registration, partnerships between eHealth startups and ride-hailing platforms to bring patients for screening using artificial intelligence (AI) tools, and more. Accessing healthtech from the comfort of a home saves money and reduces travel, which is good for environmental sustainability and helpful for preventing the spread of the Coronavirus. 

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According to Statista, revenue in the digital health market will reach USD 6.67 billion in 2023 before showing a compound annual growth rate of 12.96% to achieve USD 10.86 billion by 2027. The medical technology market is on target to reach USD 13.12 billion in 2023, with its largest segment—Medical Devices—having a projected market volume of USD 10.89 billion this year. As for the eHealth devices segment, revenues should reach USD 746.70 million this year and grow by 7.06% to have a market volume of USD 981 million by 2027.

Other benefits of healthtech include helping seniors, accessing online pharmacies, and digital fitness programs, monitoring illness through pacemakers, using smartwatches to track health data, and more. For example, companies like Singapore-based MiyaHealth have been using AI to provide affordable healthcare solutions

Factors affecting consumer adoption of healthtech

Despite the benefits of healthtech, there are many factors affecting consumer adoption. The first is cost. Pricing is high for many consumers, whereas startups need help to afford the high price of technology, pay expensive maintenance fees, and finance customer acquisition costs. In addition, Southeast Asian governments have not done enough to subsidise businesses seeking to introduce healthtech to the market. 

Secondly, consumers are concerned about privacy and security. Using healthtech requires providing personal data, which may be scary considering the increase in cybercrime. Users want to know that their data will be safe, used for health purposes only, and not shared with third parties without their approval.

A third concern is that there needs to be more certainty about using healthtech and questions about the quality of service. Patients may worry about system failures during acute treatments, such as surgeries. Customers take a while before they are comfortable adopting new technologies, but stakeholders could do more to improve health literacy in Southeast Asia. The key is to ensure consumers can access information and receive guidance to understand it. 

Culture and social demographics also play a part. Southeast Asia’s population is getting older, and there may be problems in using new healthtech solutions. Moreover, some patients prefer in-person care, which feels more personal than meeting a doctor remotely. Healthcare is about trust, meaning overcoming cultural and language barriers could boost adoption.

Inadequate digital infrastructure limits the scope of healthtech and customer access, becoming a fifth reason for delays in implementation. Many areas in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are rural or remote, hindered by limited infrastructure vital for healthtech. For example, it would be challenging to hold telehealth meetings if the internet connectivity is unstable or unreliable. Thus, governments can do more to invest in infrastructure and invite private investors to fund projects that democratise access to healthtech.

Finally, tech is still evolving, and there is a long way to go before ASEAN is entirely digitised. The need for sufficient tech talent limits how much is currently attainable. In addition, hospitals and healthcare professionals have a steep learning curve to implement healthtech to its total capacity. There also needs to be more integration or interoperability in the healthtech ecosystem, ensuring a gap in patient care will always exist.

Looking ahead

As the factors above show, the complete acceptance and adoption of healthtech in Southeast Asia may take a while. However, the region has displayed a tremendous ability to adjust to new technologies and healthtech solutions, just as they did when COVID-19 first hit. Regional governments must do more to support the sector by developing robust regulations to ensure patient safety, investing in healthtech, and subsidising costs to enable startups to afford the solutions. 

Furthermore, there should be an emphasis on research and development and improving public health literacy to enhance adoption. Fear prevents patients from using telehealth because they want to keep their data safe and avoid being conned by criminals.

Collaboration in healthtech will benefit ASEAN, enabling them to uncover diseases, conduct research together, share knowledge, and advance the sector for the public’s benefit. More integration is needed between healthtech startups and hospitals to make patient adoption seamless.

If managed well, healthtech will boost regional healthcare and contribute to sustainability by reducing the need for hospital visits.