Digital medicine

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Medicine is an under reported sector in local mainstream media. But there is so much to know about the non-medicine side of healthcare, notably the business side.

The enactment of the new law on Universal Health Care however, brings attention to the practice of medicine in this country and what ails it. The provision of emergency health services in our tourist resorts is also starting to get our attention.

The medical sector is not new to me. My father was a doctor, a professor of medicine and my mother was a general practitioner who took care of poor children in the neighborhood where I grew up.

Discussing medical issues around the dinner table was standard fare in my growing up years. Since my mother’s clinic is in the house and my father also had a small laboratory there, patients walked in and out of our house daily.

I guess this is why the practice of medicine fascinates me. Since my parents died, I now experience the travails of being an ordinary patient, one who has to wait for hours to see a doctor. Given the advance in digital technology, there is a better way of delivering healthcare.

A recent article in Bloomberg confirms digital is where hope lies. They call it “hospital without beds”. It is a revolutionary approach to healthcare that allows a patient to be tested and his condition monitored without ever having to go to a hospital.

That’s a cool idea… avoiding the hospital or a doctor’s clinic for that matter. A specialist in infectious diseases, my father warned me to avoid hospitals as much as possible because infections you can catch in hospitals are the worse kind.

Instead of going to the hospital for a regular check-up, it is now possible for your doctor to remotely check your condition digitally. I understand there are now medical diagnostic apps on smart phones that can give your doctor your vital health information.

According to the Bloomberg article, there is an American health provider that brings “virtual care” directly to a patient’s bedside at home. They use remote technology to carry out tests, monitor the patient and make sure any worrying signs were responded to before an emergency happens.

This is how health care delivery is being transformed by modern digital technology. But medical practitioners have to be convinced specially because digitization upsets their current business model.

For patient welfare and convenience, there is no turning back. The article pointed out, “finding more effective ways of caring for patients is essential to overcome the challenges facing modern healthcare.

“Aging populations have created a spike in chronic illnesses even as healthcare budgets are spiraling downward and costs spiral upward, and new treatments are ever more expensive.

“Many healthcare systems were put in place a hundred years ago primarily to treat acute medical problems at a time when most people didn’t live long enough to develop chronic conditions.

“Today’s health systems are often ill-equipped to cope with the rise in long-term care. Hospitals are paid for the number of operations they perform–the ‘fee for service’ model–not for the long-term well-being of patients.

“Yet hospitals are an expensive way of caring for patients. This disparity is forcing the transformation of healthcare systems to achieve the most patient value for money spent by keeping hospitalizations to a minimum.

“The new value-based healthcare approach is turning the care model on its head. It rewards health providers for prevention and long-term results, rather than one-off operations, often providing a fixed fee or 'capitation fee' for each patient every year. This incentivizes care providers to prevent illnesses by educating as well as diagnosing and intervening early.

“Expanding access to care is an important step to reduce the incidence and severity of illness and to treat conditions before they lead to hospitalization. This means greater use of ambulatory services to diagnose, observe and treat patients outside hospitals. Many chronic conditions such as diabetes and lung disease, including emphysema, lend themselves to this approach.”

The more widespread use of digital technology in healthcare delivery also makes it easier to reach those who would otherwise not be able to see a doctor to treat their medical problems. Too many Filipinos never see a doctor at all because they cannot afford medical fees or the health center is too far from where they live.

Since the DOH does not have enough doctors and nurses to go around, harnessing digital technology is the way to expand government’s reach. But is DOH tech ready?

There is no doubt that the doctors of tomorrow will be more digitally savvy than current doctors. Digital technology is the way doctors can provide better health care to their patients.

With digital wearables now able to provide 24/7 remote monitoring of a patient’s heart rate and, in some cases, even monitor heart condition by ECG, medical practice is simply being drastically changed.

 Indeed, a surgeon in New York can perform a delicate surgery in Manila via a reliable internet connection and robotics. That may raise questions on the eligibility of the New York surgeon to practice in the Philippines. Laws will have to catch up.

Using technology to deliver healthcare to those currently deprived of the benefits of modern medicine is the objective of a bill approved by the House Committee on Health led by Rep. Angelina Tan, a doctor herself.

The proposed bill seeks to establish the National eHealth Systems and Services that will deliver health services through cost-effective and secure information and communications technology (ICT).

The bill seeks to utilize ICT to improve quality of healthcare delivery, change the conditions of practice, and improve access to healthcare, especially in rural and other medically underserved areas.

We have a long way to go, but it is encouraging to note that our legislators are getting the idea of using technology to improve the healthcare of all Filipinos.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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