Covid-19 is reshaping healthcare with new tech

Telehealth helps bridge the gap between patients, doctors and healthcare systems by allowing virtual communication


THE Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of telemedicine in the healthcare industry as governments across the globe impose restrictions on movement as part of efforts to contain the spread of the disease.

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) CEO Sherene Azli (picture) said the adoption of telehealth, a broader term used to define medical services delivered digitally, has been one of the major headways resulting from the virus outbreak.

“It has helped to a certain extent bridge the gap between patients, doctors and healthcare systems by allowing virtual communication which enables the continuity of care,” she told The Malaysian Reserve.

Sherene said member hospitals looked to connect digitally with existing patients in delivering quality healthcare, regardless of geographical locations.

“Healthcare providers face the challenge of not being able to physically monitor patients’ health progress in addition to providing face-to-face consultations.

“While this is the ideal situation when it comes to doctor-patient communication, we have worked around this situation by leveraging healthcare digitalisation. Through this manner, we can ensure continuity of care for our patients despite geographical challenges,” she said.

The council has also been strongly encouraging healthcare providers to embrace digital transformation.

“Among the most promising opportunities to grow and remain relevant is to shift online and embrace the digital sphere, this is what will help keep us connected,” Sherene said.

She said the group will continue leveraging its digital assets to continue building trust on the global platform, as well as to keep abreast of the current changes around the world.

“Our annual medical travel market intelligence conference, insigHT2020, will be held virtually this year from Nov 23 to Nov 26, 2020. We will also be hosting our awards presentation ceremony, MTMA2020, virtually on Dec 10, 2020. This is our second year running the first-in-the-world medical travel media awards which aim to recognise medical travel journalism excellence,” Sherene said.

Prior to the pandemic, MHTC was on track to see exponential growth, especially since the government had ambitions to boost the travel and tourism industry here via “Visit Malaysia Year 2020” and “Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel 2020”, she said.

This was in line with the growth of the healthcare industry, which grew at a compound annual growth rate of 17% between 2015 and 2019, against the Asia-Pacific region growth of 12% to 14% year-on-year for the same period. In 2019, the global healthcare travel market size was estimated to be about RM186 billion.

MHTC, however, has had to trim its travel projects by 70% to 75% to RM500 million this year, with the economic impact estimated at RM2 billion.

“Patients are permitted to travel to Malaysia based on the respective governments’ decisions, however, those whose applications have been approved can only travel via medical evacuation, air ambulances, or chartered flights.”

“The standard operating procedures also require all healthcare travellers and their companions to undergo isolation of 14 days at any MHTC member hospitals in Malaysia according to the hospital’s internal isolation protocol. Travellers also must undergo compulsory Covid-19 test that will be conducted at three separate periods, namely three days before entry, upon arrival and on Day 13 of the isolation in Malaysia,” Sherene said.

To manage risk exposure, only one companion is allowed to accompany one adult healthcare traveller. However, those under 12 years of age and paediatric patients may bring along two companions.

Moving forward, Sherene expects the healthcare travel market to be smaller in 2021 and beyond.

She said the healthcare travel sector will take time to recover, but is in the right direction in terms of a healthy rebound, given the current way the nation has managed the pandemic.

Malaysia’s Health DG Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has also been recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the top doctors in the world for managing the pandemic effectively.

Sherene said MHTC will continue strengthening its role as the World’s Healthcare Marvel.

“Our unparalleled capabilities as a world-class quality healthcare provider, ease of accessibility, our value proposition as a Muslim-friendly nation and a multilingual healthcare system that can cater to the language preferences of patients across Asia and the world, among others, will continue to be factors that continue to contribute to Malaysia’s thriving growth,” she said.