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Philippines’ wellness in the digital age

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In this day and age, technology has been a powerful ally for the health care industry. Those in this sector harness latest innovations not only to discover cures but to also advance their services to provide better patient care.

Nowadays, access to information is as easy as one click away. This is evident with the proliferation of mobile applications that aims to educate the public on various medical concepts and health issues. Health care providers also extend the conversations about health beyond the walls of medical facilities through various digital formats like online publications and social media engagement.

Services are also made easy through electronic platforms that enable patients to make an appointment with a clinic, check laboratory results, reserve hospital rooms, pay hospital bills, order medicine and let it be delivered right at their doorstep, and even consult their doctors using mobile phones.

In the local setting, while a number of hospitals and health care providers are equipped with up-to-date facilities, some, especially in rural areas, still lack the necessary means to address the needs of a patient.

As part of the government’s goal to address these issues and further advance the quality of health care in the country, different government agencies such as the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) spearheaded projects that encourage the inclusion of innovative technology in hospitals and other health care facilities especially in different local government units.

A notable project in the country is the establishment of the National Telehealth Center (NTHC), a center mandated to improve the health of Filipinos in a cost-effective manner through the optimal use of information and communication technologies (ICT).

One of NTHC’s initiatives is the Community Health Information Tracking System (CHITS), which transformed manual, paper-based collection of patient and other health-related data into systematized electronic medical records. The project is said to have drastically improved health information management and access to health data in far-flung areas.

Also targeted for the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas/municipalities nationwide, another project, this time by DoST, is the RxBox. It is a telemedicine device equipped with medical sensors that capture physiological signals such as blood pressure; level of oxygen in the blood; heart movement when pumping blood; fetal heart rate; and body temperature. Diagnosis of a patient can then be stored in an electronic medical record, and transmitted to a clinical specialist for clinical advice. 

These initiatives help in addressing perennial problems plaguing the Philippine health system including poor medical record keeping, overcrowded public hospitals and clinics, and impoverishing healthcare costs, among many others.

Meanwhile, as the country’s health system continues to move forward, President Rodrigo R. Duterte rolled out the Philippine Health Agenda 2016-2022 last year. Dubbed as “All for Health Towards Health For All,” the program aims for financial protection, better health outcomes, and responsiveness for all Filipinos. 

Through harnessing the potential of ICT in the field of health care, one of the targets of the program is a functional network of health facilities that are fully equipped and are enhanced by telemedicine.

To achieve its targets, the agenda states that part of the government’s strategies is to further invest in eHealth. World Health Organization defines eHealth as the use of ICT for health, which can reduce health care costs to families and improve equitable access to quality services.

Part of the strategies in investing in eHealth includes the mandate to use electronic records in all health facilities; make online submission of clinical, drug dispensing, administrative and financial records a prerequisite for registration, licensing, and contracting; 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.

All these efforts and programs aimed to improve the country’s health system is part of the government’s vision for the Philippines as a country where the marginalized are protected from high cost of health care, and that Filipinos will feel respected and empowered when it comes to their health. — Romsanne R. Ortiguero