Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Philippines - PHL health care expected to register robust growth

THE country’s health-care industry is poised for a huge growth in the coming years, given the increasing number of skilled medical practitioners and the growing health-care portfolio of the private companies engaged in this business.

“Acquisitions by major conglomerates of hospitals and health-service providers, as well as business expansion of current players, all attest to bright prospects in the sector,” said Jose Victor Emmanuel de Dios, GE Philippines CEO and former undersecretary of the Department of Energy (DOE).

The largest private health-care provider in the country, Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings Inc., has acquired 11 hospitals, with about 3,000 beds across the country.  These include Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Asian Hospital and De los Santos Medical Center in Metro Manila. Some of its hospitals in the provinces include Davao Doctors Hospital, Riverside Medical Center in Bacolod, Central Luzon Doctors Hospital in Tarlac and West Metro Medical Center in Zamboanga.

De Dios also cited a relatively new entrant into the health-care space known as the Qualimed Health Network, owned and operated by the Mercado Hospital Group, in partnership with Ayala Land.
Qualimed currently has seven operational facilities, with two hospitals and two clinics scheduled to open this year.

“Business expansion and opportunities currently unfolding have caused major local and regional business groups to look more closely and expand their investment plans in the sector,” de Dios said.

Also, the country has a sizeable talent pool of medical practitioners. In 2014 de Dios said the Philippines had over 110,000 medical-course graduates.

“One competitive advantage the country has in this field is its skilled medical practitioners. Filipino medical professionals are renowned across the world for their skills and brand of care,” he said.

In some instances, where there are restrictions in the exercise of professions and the granting of work permits in some Asean countries, de Dios said this can enhance the value of medical professionals not only in the Philippines but also in countries where the practice of their trade is relatively easier.

“This could also raise the confidence of medical tourists as they contemplate destinations in the region that offer value yet quality medical care,” he said.

The Philippines has already developed an eHealth Strategic Framework and Plan until 2020, which aims to utilize information and communication technologies (ICT) in the health sector.

This would facilitate the delivery of health services and manage health systems for greater efficiency and effectivity.

“One only has to note the latest in medical technology to appreciate the direction that health-care providers need to be looking at, as practitioners and patients alike continue to look for ways to improve health-care services, diagnosis and treatment,” de Dios said.

One of the strategic goals of this framework is to establish unified and coherent health and management information systems, and also to capitalize on ICT to reach and provide better health services and support the attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The Department of Health (DOH) in Region 4B (Mimaropa), for instance, has launched the first interactive telemedicine system in the country at the Dr. Damian J. Reyes Provincial Hospital in Marinduque.

The system currently provides medical consultations and diagnostics through video calls.

“In an archipelago, such as the Philippines, the opportunities for telemedicine are endless. Even the delivery of simple medicines across inaccessible areas is now being piloted through the use of drones,” de Dios said.

In other countries, handheld devices are now being introduced, which allow consumers to measure temperature, heart rate and oxygen levels. These are even equipped with cameras that allow examination of the throat and inner ear in order to allow doctors to perform online examinations.

There are also new devices being introduced to the market, such as wrist-worn blood pressure sensors that deliver information to a smartphone.

De Dios said his company’s thrust to become a leading digital-industrial company has led to similar innovations in handheld ultrasound equipment, which is currently being deployed in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Equipped with Bluetooth capability, Vscan Access, a portable handheld ultrasound device, allows medical professionals to increasingly reach remote areas in the country. It can scan pregnant women and wirelessly transmit images of fetuses to doctors even in faraway hospitals, to help determine whether mothers need to proceed to a health center or hospital for appropriate care.

De Dios said with the increasing penetration of smartphones, wireless tools and other similar technology, primary care and specialist referral services, as well as remote patient monitoring and patient medical health information are just some of the services that can be performed and enhanced by telemedicine.

“Philippine health care has seen increased activity and opportunities in the last few years. While health-care demand is still driven by traditional factors, such as ageing populations and consequences of modern urban lifestyles that lead to increased incidences of disease, there are other factors that are stimulating exciting growth and innovations,” he said.

For instance, opportunities abound in the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

Given the different levels of health-care services in the Asean, increased cross-border investments and even potential consolidation are to be expected, he said.

“We are seeing private health-care players in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand expanding their reach not only in their respective countries but beyond their borders as well,” he said.

With PhilHealth’s mandate to cover 100 percent of the population, demand for quality, affordable and accessible health care is on the rise. Among other opportunities, this allows the private health-care sector to collaborate with public counterparts in providing improved services to Filipinos.

“Still, as a nation, we are already on the road to improvement. Per capita health-care spending for the Philippines has actually grown from $78.1 in 2009 to $118.8 in 2012—a growth of more than 50 percent.

Should this trajectory continue in tandem with economic growth, health-care services will eventually reach a greater portion of the population than what is currently being served today,” de Dios said.

Lenie Lectura

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