Covid-19 is spearheading a digital healthcare transformation allowing patients to gain access to a doctor without stepping into a hospital or clinic. Here we explore how digital health is flourishing in Asian-Pacific (APAC) countries and take a sneak-peek into the future of digital healthcare in this exciting and upcoming digital marketplace.
- The APAC region is projected to grow by over one third in the next 5 years
- Covid-19 is the fuel for accelerating the APAC digital health revolution
- Geriatric health is a key driver of digital maturity in the APAC region
- Biofourmis, Ping An Good Doctor, Medlinker are among the leaders delivering digital healthcare in SE Asia
- The APAC digital health market is projected to grow by 34.2% CAGR over the next 5 years.
1. APAC; an under-rated and growing digital health market?
WeAreSocial’s Digital 2019 report revealed that Southeast Asia was the fastest-growing region in terms of internet, mobile and social media users over the recent years. The demand for digital healthcare in Asia is rising due to several reasons, primarily economic; lack of high-end infrastructure, monetary constraints, shortage of medical equipment and medical professionals, especially in rural areas. According to the World Health Organisation, Southeast Asian countries tend to have fewer physicians on average (approx.0.6) for every 1000 people of the population. This ratio plummets further when we zero in on specific countries such as Indonesia (0.1). This is a stark comparison to developed economies such as Germany, which has 3.7. The Mayo Clinic states that accessibility is one of the primary drivers of telehealth adoption worldwide accentuating the salience of the Asian market given that over 50% of its populations living in rural areas. The high incidence of chronic, non-communicable diseases in APAC such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, has also helped spark the digitalisation of this emerging market.
“By 2020, the APAC MedTech market is expected to reach USD 133 billion” - Deloitte”
2. Covid-19; a silver lining for digital health
With the unbridled spreading of Covid-19 and issuing of stay-at-home orders, doctors around the globe are capitalizing on telemedicine as a new-old way to reach their patients. In leading countries like Singapore, 64% of healthcare professionals are reported to already employ some form of digital to monitor their patients. Covid-19 is predicted to continue to accelerate the adoption of telemedicine in China and Singapore where the phenomenon has already gained traction.
China's long-standing investment in digital has set it apart from other countries in the fight against Covid-19
China has been particularly noted for its capacity to leverage digital resources in the fight against Covid-19. In the past decade, China has invested heavily in big data, AI, and other IT funds in the healthcare field setting it ahead of the game when we compare region-specific responses to the pandemic. Tencent and Elsevier recently collaborated to share medical information with Chinese doctors. Alibaba Cloud is delivering AI computing power to bolster large chunks of data analysis, large-scale literature screening and scientific super-computing work. China has also leveraged the use of robots to support frontline health workers. Medical robots at Wuhan Thunder Mountain Hospital have been deployed to disinfect hospital wards, monitor patient’s temperature and organise medical supplies, thereby diminishing the workload of medical staff and reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
On the other hand, more conservative markets, such as South Korea and Hong Kong are more tentatively adopting digital health tools in response to the pandemic. The demand for such services in these regions is relatively low in comparison due to the cultural attitude and lack of funding.
What's brewing in Japan?
Japan has experientially highlighted the advantages of digital in its response to Covid-19. In particular, it is honing in on telemedicine and clinical trials as tools to help curb infection rates and plan for future preventative measures. Pivoting towards digital health has been shown to help alleviate the diagnostic error rate in Japan, which is estimated to be around 30%.
Japan has seen the world’s second-largest national share of investment in pharmaceutical and healthcare research and the government is looking to close the gap by focusing in on the US. In 2014, The SAKIGAKE strategy was adopted by the Japanese government to support the R&D sector with an aim of enhancing the country’s role in the practical innovation of pharmaceuticals. The result, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, has been to turn the country into “the world leader in regenerative medical products and an attractive place for biotech firms to do business.”
India has seen incredible growth over the past decade.
Despite its lagging development, India has contributed to highlighting the indispensable nature of digital. India's accelerated adoption of digital was specifically noted during Covid-19 following the release of Aarogya Setu, a mobile app, used for contact tracing, syndromic mapping and self-assessment. Other digital health solutions like CureFit, Practo, Medlife, PharmEasy, 1mg are achieving accelerated acceptance during these times.
3. Aging as a driver for digital health in the APAC region
- Globally, approx. 2 billion people are expected to be aged over 60 by 2050 – three times the figure in 2000. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that the world’s old-age support ratio (the number of people aged 20 to 64 per person aged over 65) will reduce from 4.2 in 2008 to 2.1 by 2050. In APAC, this change is predicted to be even starker.
- The increasing geriatric population is forecasted to impel digital health growth in APAC over the coming years. The cumulative healthcare expenditure on geriatric populations from 2015 to 2030 in APAC is expected to exceed $20 trillion.
- The era of telemedicine, wearable technology, and online behaviour tracking has the potential to improve the quality of lives allowing insurers to offer lower premiums. The emergence of augmented reality (AR) has shown to serve as a powerful tool for health promotion. Mobile apps and AR have demonstrated a potential to encourage behavioural and social changes imperative to developing healthy lifestyles. Over the long-term these interventions are predicted to assuage strains on healthcare infrastructures services becoming increasingly part of routine, standard care.
4. SE Asia's digital health leaders
With the capacity to cut down on unnecessary hospital expenditures, in person follow-ups, and unnecessary travel during Covid-19, digital has paved the way for digital transformation of our healthcare systems. Leading by example in APAC we have:
- Biofourmis, a fast-growing global leader of personalized predictive care which has recently announced the completion of a $100 million Series C financing round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Biofourmis' plan to utilize their funding to aid "home hospital" initiatives with health systems and "beyond the pill" digital-based partnerships with big pharma.
"COVID-19 is pushing remote monitoring and digital therapeutics to the forefront of medicine," said Biofourmis CEO Kuldeep Singh Rajput.
- mClinica, a health tech startup located in Singapore. Its mobile platform has proven to benefit patient adherence, pharmaceutical supply chains and generate data that guide better decision-making in both the public and private sectors.
- Medlinker, a Chinese social networking app for verified doctors. The app allows physicians to share their expertise, facilitate referrals and share medical records.
- Molcure, is a next-generation drug discovery company based in Japan. The company leverages AI and biotechnology solutions to aid the discovery of highly specific molecular compounds that outperform those found by ordinary approaches.
- Ping An Health Cloud and Singaporean on-demand services provider Grab. These companies are teaming up to invest in the creation of Southeast Asia's first online healthcare platform.
- Other well-known players include Aslan Pharmaceuticals, CXA Group, Doctor Anywhere, DocDoc to name a few.
5. APAC region is projected to grow by 34.2% CAGR by 2025
- Rising investment in the telecommunication network along with the development of healthcare infrastructure is forecasted to boost regional growth over the next few years
- Software solutions such as EHRs, fitness and medical apps, and healthcare analytics which accounted for nearly 34% of digital health market share in 2019 is expected to continue growing at this rate in the mid to short-term
- Hardwares such as glucometers and BP monitors were valued at over USD 31 billion in 2019. The growing incidence of chronic diseases in APAC is predicted to encourage its expansion.
- With a population of over 659 million and a collective gross domestic product (GDP) of US$3.4 trillion, APAC is destined to become the world’s fifth-largest economy by 2020. Its digital economy reached over $30 billion in 2015 and is predicted to skyrocket to $200 billion by 2025.
Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital health by people all over the world and APAC is no exception. Despite the headwinds, the capacity for a digital health revolution to break the boundaries of conventional medicine and have a lasting impact is an under-rated possibility of the APAC market. We will continue to keep an eye on this space!