Managing healthcare surges through digital advancement

14:43 | 28/09/2020
The COVID-19 outbreak plaguing countries worldwide has brought the global economy, especially the healthcare sector, face-to-face with unprecedented challenges. From another angle, however, the health crisis could serve as a stimulus to accelerate the development of medical innovations, helping healthcare achieve a new sense of normalcy in digitalisation.
managing healthcare surges through digital advancement
This year’s developments have lowered some barriers for healthcare groups attempting to integrate in a more digitalised fashion

At the beginning of August, a field hospital was set up in the central city of Danang to help ease the burden on Danang Hospital which had been overloaded by disease check-ups and treatment since the second wave of the outbreak hit the city. Similarly, health stations in Hanoi had also been pushed to their limits due to a sudden increase of people registering for rapid COVID-19 testing.

Previously across the world, even the healthcare systems of developed countries started groaning under the pressure. In less than three weeks in March, the virus overloaded hospitals in northern Italy, offering a glimpse of what countries would face if they cannot slow the contagion. In the US, hospitals were similarly overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The health crisis has subjected hospitals across the globe to an onslaught of patients, leading to a serious shortage of medical equipment and human resources, highlighting the need to transform traditional ways of managing patient flows.

At the same time, the pandemic has also disrupted medical staff who are pursuing continuing education. Offline learning events are limited in number and scope while travelling is restricted, which makes it easy for healthcare professionals to fall behind the fast development of medical technology.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese healthcare sector is still facing the added pressure of maintaining its fast growth to live up to the growing demand of the population. According to a 2018 report from Business Monitor International, at a per capita level, annual healthcare spending in Vietnam is expected to double from $170 in 2017 to $400 per capita in 2027.

Preparing for uncertainty

With this growth momentum – and the growth rate of the population – the healthcare sector will need to double its equipment and human resources in the next 10 years in order to meet the essential needs of medical examination and treatment of our citizens.

“Uncertainties like the COVID-19 pandemic speak eloquently for the digital transformation of Vietnamese healthcare,” said Son Pham, country manager for GE Healthcare Vietnam and CEO of GE Vietnam. “The pandemic has changed the balance of demand and supply so greatly, making it harder for the traditional approach to adapt. In other words, COVID-19 has lowered the barriers towards digital integration and created room for new technology to manifest efficiency.”

With the ability to make huge improvements in the quality and speed of health services, digital technology is projected to be a strong instrument for healthcare providers and medical staff to overcome the challenges of the current outbreak and similar situations in the future.

The most notable benefits of digitalisation are improving diagnosis to minimise human errors, increase accuracy, and better manage the patient flow throughout the hospital.

For example, a portable mobile x-ray system developed by GE Healthcare that is used by leading hospitals in Vietnam has built-in AI capabilities to alert technicians when the algorithm detects pneumothorax (collapsed lung).

With a 95 per cent likelihood of correct diagnosis, this feature can ensure tremendous time savings and uphold safety for patients. AI can also be used to streamline the workflow in an entire radiology department and drive down examination time by 16 per cent.

Not only in times of epidemics and disasters, remote medical examination and treatment will play a key role in minimising unnecessary exposure and the transmission of infections, as well as in taking quality healthcare to even the most remote provinces where physical healthcare infrastructure is inadequate.

Through remote monitors, doctors can check on patients without paying multiple visits to the patient premises. This helps to minimise physical interaction, reducing contamination risk and redundancy, allowing healthcare practitioners to support at-risk patients at critical moments even from a distance.

In Vietnam, various technologies are being explored such as tele-ICU to improve healthcare access which has been found of great utility during crisis situations such as COVID-19. Tele-ICU works as a remote consultation model in collaboration with a hub-and-spoke network of remote ICU consultation solutions, allowing controlling patients in remote and distant places.

In March, the Vietnam Telemedicine Centre for COVID-19 Outbreak Control – the very first centre of this kind in the country – was launched in Hanoi, connected with over 200 GE Healthcare patient monitors and ventilators and 20 provincial hospitals across Vietnam.

Attracting workers

Digitalisation can also help solve the challenging issue of human resources. According to Solidiance, Vietnam has 8.6 doctors for every 10,000 people, and these practitioners are mainly located in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Virtual education and training would alleviate this lack of trained human resources and expand the reach of specialist care to all areas.

In the second quarter, GE Healthcare attracted more than 1,000 medical workers to a series of virtual webinars to aid the efficient diagnosis of COVID-19 cases, provide safety guidelines for radiologists when diagnosing COVID-19 patients, and support Continuing Medical Education (CME) “3D Uterus in Infertility”.

Most recently, Radiology Week, the virtual radiology showcase of GE Healthcare ASEAN, has helped to update new advanced technology and solutions in diagnostic imaging.

“I’m delighted to work at the clinics and study online simultaneously. Thanks to those educational webinars from GE Healthcare, not only can I gain useful knowledge to daily work, but also have the opportunity to take a CME test,” said Dr. Hoa Huynh from Careplus Clinics in Ho Chi Minh City. “I am really pleased with the learning experience and the results I got. Definitely, I will support and take part in more educational webinars like this.”

Pham from GE Vietnam added, “The digital transformation in healthcare is inevitable and it has been in the making for decades now, gradually making improvements to the quality and speed of health services. Digitalising the healthcare system to benefit patients and the system itself is the next step in a logical progression which will help us achieve a new sense of normalcy where the sector will stay stable even in the most unstable situations.”

By Hoang Anh

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