Over the course of eight weeks, we will be publishing a series of articles on the partnership between healthcare and technology and legal implications on key stakeholders in the health system.
This first article in the series provides an overview of the significance of technology in healthcare, with a focus on Thailand.
Technology in Healthcare: The New Face of Healthcare Delivery
Technology in healthcare or for healthcare is not new. It has been around for many years. When we talk about technology in healthcare it can mean many different things to different people. Terms such as Health Tech, Health Technology, MediTech, Medical Information Technology and Digital Health all refer to much the same thing, namely, the partnership between technology and healthcare and the healthcare industry. Any definitive definition of these terms is difficult. The possible uses of technology in healthcare are virtually limitless. .
However, one thing is certain - the convergence of the healthcare and technology industries is resulting in a radical change in the delivery of healthcare services. In the course of the weeks to follow, we will attempt to provide an overview of key trends and address some of the issues that arise as a result of healthtech innovations that are changing the face of the healthcare industry. Some of these issues will include:
- Healthtech environment in Thailand – current situation and how the delivery of healthcare can benefit from technology
- Technology from a personal use perspective, including apps and wearables
- Technology from the health system perspective such as telemedicine and limitations of technology
- Data privacy and reclassification of products
- Potential legal liabilities of key stakeholders in the healthcare system
- Compliance, data protection and level of access to information
- Health insurance and malpractice
Before we continue, let's just make it clear that we are talking about more recent technologies, for example, digital innovations, immuno-oncology products, and enhanced diagnostic and active intervention devices and procedures to name just a few.
Development of science and technology has become ever faster and more effective with there being an ever increasing revolution and integration of the two. There is the potential to radically change our lives, the way in which we manage our health, and the way various stakeholders (whether it be ourselves as patients, industry operators such as medicine and device manufacturers, healthcare facility owners, governmental agencies and the general public). We can now use technology and science to prevent sickness and to maintain good health as opposed to merely focusing on the curing of diseases.
Like everything else technology comes with challenges. There are huge questions for all stakeholders to consider. How best to balance the benefit of technology and science without (i) compromising ethical and medical best practices of healthcare professionals and relevant personnel, (ii) privacy of patient, (iii) quality of healthcare treatment which we have been developed until now, (iv) the need to lower healthcare expenditure as a whole, and (v) the need to lower the gap of good quality medical treatments between the rich and the poor, to mention just a few. .
With the level of development and increase of access to digital data and devices which is occurring in Thailand it is really important for various stakeholders to try to leverage the great potential of using this development to improve the national healthcare system and its infrastructure and delivery. Otherwise, Thailand will find itself running to catch up with higher technology in the future which will be far too costly (both in terms of economic cost and the wellbeing of the public) or at worst may not be possible at all. Any government which fails to use these new innovations may end up spending even more money in the future for national healthcare and risk being left behinds in terms of quality of life and ability to compete. It might sound hard to understand but imagine these possible scenarios: .
- A time when in Thailand we continue to have physicians working in physical healthcare facilities whilst other countries surrounding us are providing telemedicine and treatments which allow people from remote areas to access good standards of treatment.
- Private medical and device companies move to provide products which aim to improve health and lifestyle rather than simply producing traditional medicines which we are currently depending on. The production of these medicines will likely become more expensive for countries which still need them since there will simply no longer be any economies of scale.
- When our neighboring countries improve their healthcare systems and infrastructure which accommodate new technology and digital innovation then where is the future for our dream of being a medical hub? We may end up producing (if we still can) best personnel for others and not for our own national fundamental healthcare needs.
- We cannot use "innovative" medicines to cure life threatening diseases as we don’t have a healthcare infrastructure in our hospitals which can accommodate them.
- Our great quality healthcare professionals (who cannot resist technical challenges and developments) move away to work in other countries, the crisis we used to (or perhaps still) have.
- Where will Thailand be in the next few decades when we become an aging society? How much of our national healthcare spending budget will have to be used in treating the poor health of old people who can no longer contribute to the national income. We have to imagine ourselves in the midst of countries with improving healthcare systems and infrastructure that are actually improving and maintaining their population in a more sustainable way by leveraging health technology and innovation.
Big questions for Thai stakeholders are as follows. Given the major and real challenges we are all now facing do we need to wake up quickly? Does it not matter that in spite of how hard, painful and expensive it may prove to be (and this is likely to be true for other countries as well with, developed ones not being an exception) we simply cannot afford to be left behind in terms of very fast moving technological innovation? Should we not be using the active digital usage of Thais as an advantage and transforming ourselves to be compatible and competitive with other countries?
If we fail to meet these challenges we might need to reclassify current medicine (which we now call modern medicine) and in the future call it "traditional medicine". This is not just a joke. Hopefully, it is a way of making us all aware of how bad things could be and ensuring we do something about it.