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Looking into the future of health care

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The health care industry stands to benefit greatly from the strong economic growth of the Philippines, but it may also face new, unprecedented challenges.

Prosperous times have an outsized effect on population growth. Affordability and accessibility, though they have always been the main concerns of the country’s health care system, will become ever the more important as the population of Filipinos in both rural and urban areas follows its economic trajectory.

It then seems prudent that the Philippines keeps its sights focused on finding solutions to both new and longstanding health care concerns, as it steps forward into its bountiful future.

“The Philippine Health Care Industry is enjoying unprecedented growth,” Ma. Cristina G. Coronel, Healthcare Information Management Association of the Philippines president, had said in the Healthcare Information Management Services (HIMS) Conference in 2016.

“[By 2022], the HIMS industry could be making $5 billion in revenues with 210,000 direct employment or 14.8% growth,” she said.

The opportunity lies in the new avenues of service that technology is opening up. Ms. Coronel noted new and expanded types of services of the industry, like telemedicine, which is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology, could allow patients to access medical expertise in more convenient ways, providing ease of access and a potential cost savings for the patient.

Aside from Telemedicine, Ms. Coronel also pointed out the potential of innovative work in voice, non-voice, information technology, and analytics coming from the pharmaceutical businesses, health IT, and from the provider-and-payor-centric processes.

Technology and innovation are also providing a buffer against the rise of chronic, or noncommunicable diseases that continue to put undue strain on the country’s taxed health care systems. According to the World Economic Forum, the five leading noncommunicable diseases — cardiovascular disease (CVD), chronic respiratory disease, cancer, diabetes and mental ill-health — will cost the global economy US$47 trillion by 2030.

To combat this, GE Healthcare’s Sustainable Healthcare Solutions (SHS) for emerging markets seeks to develop technologies that are clinically and economically relevant to countries like the Philippines.

Myra Eskes, president & CEO of GE Healthcare ASEAN, said in the Hospital Management Asia conference in 2017 that they are aiming to engage in providing skills training for medical personnel as they believe that having good equipment does not automatically mean having good patient outcomes. GE Healthcare also provides financing solutions that are viable and sustainable in the long term to address the issue of funding for players in the industry.

Elisabeth Staudinger, president of Siemens Healthineers, Asia Pacific, likewise, said during the conference that her company is using artificial intelligence to help interpret radiology images, whether it’s X-ray, CT or MRI scans.

“We see opportunities helping hospital providers to become a lot more efficient by utilizing information coming off equipment they’ve installed in the hospitals. Then there’s also this greater vision of creating information which is available globally and can be utilized no matter where you are in this planet for determining the best care for a patient,” Ms. Staudinger said.

In the advanced field of biopharmaceuticals, impressive work is being done on immuno-oncology, gene therapy, and personalized medicine, all of which can be used to treat fatal diseases like cancer. Immuno-oncology, for instance, aims to coax the body’s own immune system to fight the disease. Unlike traditional approaches such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which kill healthy cells along with cancerous ones, immunotherapies target cancer cells by enhancing the body’s own innate ability to fight off rogue invaders.

“Rapid change and unprecedented opportunity are now the hallmarks of the biopharmaceutical industry. But the future of health won’t just be defined by the innovations we set out to create; it will be equally shaped by how we respond to — and anticipate — the challenges and consequences of each great advancement. The more we know, the more “known unknowns” are revealed. The boundaries of areas left for researchers to explore constantly expand, while possible applications of new technologies proliferate,” Albert Bourla, chief operating officer of Pfizer Inc., wrote for the World Economic Forum.

The most meaningful changes in health care, Mr. Bourla noted, will come from the right blend of innovation and deliberation. As new discoveries in medicine push the boundaries of what was thought possible, there should also be an equivalent and simultaneous effort in building mechanisms that explore each innovation through a prism of social, economic and political filters to better anticipate the consequences of progress.

“As we map out new health care territories, we must make sure each route leads back to patients. Large-scale changes driven by tech innovation are only as valuable as their impact on individual people’s lives, lives we are constantly striving to improve and extend. I believe that the best way to protect and treat the people we all serve is to identify the potential benefits and the potential challenges of each new breakthrough. Leveraging innovation wisely will let us help more patients than ever before.” — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran