Enabling access to healthcare for millions and many more in Asia

By Callum Bir, Director for the Health and Social Services Industry, Microsoft Asia Pacific

callum-blogDeveloped markets and emerging markets alike are facing healthcare challenges in Asia Pacific. Take for example, in India, close to 850 million people lack access to quality healthcare while in New Zealand, long distances between homes and hospitals affect services rendered to the ageing population. Across Asia Pacific however, what remains a common challenge is the lack of quick, efficient access to quality healthcare at a time when patients need it most.

Access is a common challenge for healthcare organizations in Asia Pacific

Healthcare providers acknowledge the challenge of limited access and have started to think of how they can augment the way patients have access to healthcare providers and their loved ones. Access is not just about payments or arranging patient care; it is also about providing patients digital knowledge to reliable information. This online connection to patients and their health data needs to extend to clinicians in order for the care team to provide the right care at the right time. The ability to use existing resources to predict the need for healthcare even before the patient reaches the hospital is enormously advantageous for organizations allowing them to reduce hospitalization, saving time, costs and resources like doctors, nurses and hospital beds.

Virtual health is increasingly relevant to patients and health staff

How can healthcare organizations improve access, equip health staff to more efficiently take better care of more people, and at the same time, empower people to take better care of themselves?

This is where virtual health comes into play. Virtual health integrates technologies like bots, Internet of Things (IoT) and the cloud to connect clinicians, patients, care teams, and healthcare professionals virtually. It is not about doing away with physical consultation, but enhancing care with virtual consultation.

Sometimes, getting to the same place physically takes time and in some instances, is almost impossible on account of travel costs faced by those living in rural areas, especially in emerging Asian markets. Care teams have started to turn to video conferencing to confer with each other and diagnose patients. Additionally, when clinicians spend less time traveling, they can spend more time on delivering quality care services for patients and collaborate more with their fellow colleagues.

Building virtual health into existing healthcare models

A number of our partners are enabling healthcare organizations to integrate virtual health into their existing care models to allow patients to connect with care staff remotely:

Take for example, RingMD, a health tech startup headquartered in Singapore with local offices in a number of countries in the region that connects patients and doctors around the world, 24/7. Utilizing the power of the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and the company’s own suite of proprietary technologies, RingMD currently provides remote consultation and virtual health services in text, audio, and video formats for over 5 million registered users in 10 markets across Asia – backed by the expertise of over 15,000 registered doctors.

The idea for RingMD spurred from the CEO’s, Justin Fulcher’s, travels around Indonesia. Here he observed much of the population’s lack of access to basic resources, like clean drinking water, yet a proliferation of smartphone usage throughout even the most rural area

The experience gave Fulcher an idea: what if he could start a company that connected doctors with patients, so they could receive proper medical advice on any mobile device?

Doctors are improving patient outcomes by offering teleconsultations – all through mobile devices which are prevalent today across Asia
Doctors are improving patient outcomes by offering teleconsultations – all through mobile devices which are prevalent today across Asia

Users can now sign up to the RingMD platform to facilitate consultations via video link. Conditions which do not require a physical examination can then be remotely diagnosed and treated. Patients can also wear RingMD’s Health Band on their wrist which transmits their pulse, blood pressure and other vital signs to the doctor in real time. Doctors can remotely use this data to help patients make more informed decisions about their health. Ring MD have now also integrated its bot, Cardea, into their platform which will allow patients to instantly find answers pertaining to their health concerns either by entering their questions directly or providing a description of their symptoms. Cardea offers a more personal experience as it is designed to simulate a conversation with a friend who has a medical background, and this breaks down barriers of access to health information for patients.

Another example is Wax Interactive based in Australia where immediate access to care over far distances is a challenge. Their virtual health platform, integrated with the federal government’s MyHealth electronic health record system, enables clinicians and patients to interact and share information in real time virtually. To Darren Magick, Communications Director at Wax Interactive, access is not just important to those living in remote areas but also to those in cities, especially the aged, who need access almost immediately when they need it most.

Innovation Labs – Bringing virtual health to reality

In response to the demand for increased access via virtual health, we are accelerating start-ups focused around digital health, in particular virtual health, through our Microsoft Health Innovation Labs across Asia.

Our labs help bring together local and global, best-of-breed, non-competing digital health companies with open architecture – amongst others, CLAS Healthcare, Clinic To Cloud, MedCubes, Proskriptive, ConnectedLife and Vital Images – to deliver innovative future-proof virtual health solutions as required uniquely for Asia. This ecosystem includes players ranging from medical technology to pharmaceutical to telecommunications and even investors.

A few of the virtual health areas the ecosystem is focused include remote monitoring of patients and staff, and accelerating the use of bots in the care continuum. At the labs, we equip our partners with advanced technologies like Conversations as a Platform and IoT, and individuals who are highly specialized in these technologies to allow significant speed of innovation and eventually bring them to those who need them the most – the patient. What’s great is that innovations that are developed in our lab in say Vietnam can be taken and deployed in our other labs across Asia, enabling problem solving across the region.

In the last twelve months, we have discovered many new solutions at our labs that can help address lack of access and facilitate virtual health. Healthcare organizations recognize the need for these solutions and are looking at ways virtual health can be factored into their business model and patient care continuum. What excites me most about virtual health is the societal impact that comes with it: we can provide healthcare to near half of the population in Asia that currently does not have access, reduce the need of hospitalization for half the number of people who go to hospitals and extend the life expectancy for people in Asia.