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Adapting trends to advance health care

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The health care industry in the country had undergone various transformations, displaying progress in some areas over the years. According to a 2017 Oxford Business Group (OBG) report, the country has displayed improving health outcomes since the 1970s, thus, Filipinos are generally living longer and healthier lives.

“But despite these advances, the country lags behind many of its neighbors on key health indicators, such as the maternal mortality rate and incidence of tuberculosis, and its health expenditure is considerably less than other countries in Southeast Asia. At the same time, lifestyle diseases are emerging as a new health challenge, requiring different responses. These are the issues that the Philippines face as it moves forward with its commitment to achieve universal health coverage, ensuring that all Filipinos have access to quality, affordable health care,” the report continued.

With regard to the emergence of new health challenges related to lifestyle and longer life span, it is foreseen that there will be an increase in number of clinics that cater to this area of need.

Former President and CEO of St. Luke’s Medical Center Dr. Edgardo R. Cortez was quoted in the same report by OBG, “As a result of longer life spans due to improved care, providers need to face the challenge of catering to a rise in degenerative illnesses. Ageing will be an increasingly major component of health care demand, and hospitals will be evaluated on how well they attend to chronic diseases caused by ageing. Additionally, the business process outsourcing industry and the characteristics of its work environment have created high demand for cardiovascular and hypertension services, leading to the establishment of more dedicated clinics for occupational health and programmes that address diabetes or other lifestyle-related diseases.”

“The health sector needs to shift its attention from curative to preventive, but not all diseases are preventable. Addressing preventable diseases generally involves immunization or lifestyle changes, both of which are primary preventive measures. For diseases that cannot be prevented, one performs secondary prevention, meaning early detection. As a result, there will be growth in wellness clinics and diagnostic facilities to meet this demand,” he continued.

In light of digital revolution, IT solutions is perceived to play an increased role in the country’s health care industry. As Mr. Cortez mentioned to OBG, this trend will intensify further as the industry seeks to replicate global best practices.

Moreover, OBG stated in a report that technology is also transforming the drug and pharmaceuticals retail market. To illustrate, OBG mentioned that some companies are tapping into the online platform to sell medicines.

On the side of the government, OBG reported that the Philippines is looking at e-health to help it meet its goal of achieving universal health coverage given that Filipinos has high level of social media engagement and is an Internet-literate population.

“For the government, technology is a way to streamline the management of devolved health systems and improve health care delivery in rural areas by providing remote clinics, which often lack the necessary equipment and specialist expertise, with new ways to assess and test patients. E-health also gives patients themselves the opportunity to consult medical professionals through their smart phones and the internet, which means they no longer need to rely solely on health care providers for information,” OBG said.

In particular, part of the strategies indicated in the Philippine Health Agenda 2016 to 2022 by the Department of Health (DoH) is investing in eHealth and data for decision-making. The strategies include mandating the use of electronic medical records in all health facilities; and making online submission of clinical, drug dispensing, administrative, and financial records a prerequisite for registration, licensing, and contracting.

It also includes the following: commission nationwide surveys, streamline information systems, and support efforts to improve local civil registration and vital statistics; automate major business processes and invest in warehousing and business intelligence tools; and facilitate ease of access of researchers to available data.

The DoH, in collaboration with other government agencies, envisions that by 2020, “eHealth will enable widespread access to health care services, health information, and securely share and exchange clients information in support to a safer, quality health care, more equitable and responsive health system for all the Filipino people by transforming the way information is used to plan, manage, deliver and monitor health services.”

On another note, the country’s National Telehealth Center is addressing the distance barrier to enable access to health care for those living in remote areas with the use of IT solutions.

One of the center’s projects is the Community Health Information Tracking System (CHITS), which is an electronic medical record system that aims to improve health information management. Another is the RxBox, a telemedicine device that can capture medical signals, store data in an electronic medical record, and transmit health information via internet to a clinical specialist.

Through harnessing technology, these initiatives have helped in advancing health care in rural communities. — Romsanne R. Ortiguero