Digital health tools are not effective as standalone solutions, expert says

The human element behind digital health solutions maximises benefits for patients.
By Thiru Gunasegaran
04:32 AM

Credit: Axios International

While digital health is crucial in filling the gaps in healthcare access by connecting with patients beyond physical care facilities, it would not work on its own, says a consulting expert at healthcare access company Axios International.

A panel discussion chaired by the company in early April, titled “Making healthcare access sustainable: Enhancing the patient experience during and beyond the pandemic”, delivered insights into how digital health solutions enable sustainable healthcare access in Malaysia.

Moderated by Dishen Kumar, anchor of Astro AWANI’s Health Matters, the panel comprised Roshel Jayasundera, senior director of Global Consulting at Axios International and Dato’ Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Wahid, consultant clinical oncologist at Beacon Hospital.


Noncommunicable diseases, which make up 74% of Malaysia's deaths, is costing the country over RM8.9 billion ($2 billion) in productivity losses, according to the World Health Organization.

Among ways to plug these losses is through the adoption of digital health solutions, a "strong enabler" in the healthcare access ecosystem that connects patients with stakeholders and ensures care sustainability, especially in out-of-hospital settings.

However, digital health tools must be complemented with their human element to maximise benefits for patients, according to Jayasundera.

"While digitalisation can streamline operations and optimise resources, they remain as enablers; they wouldn’t work as efficiently – or as effectively – if they were a standalone solution," Jayasundera said.

"Without the human element, any self-reported information added to the digital platform by the patient would begin and end with them. By proactively triggering a response based on data entered, the human factor behind a digital platform plays a significant role in maximising health benefits for patients," she added.


Jayasundera's point was previously echoed by Dr Helmi Zekaria, CEO of AIME and committee member of Selangor's COVID-19 task force. During a dialogue in the HIMSS APAC Malaysia Digital Health Summit last year, Zekaria said digital innovations for healthcare must be "people-centric" for both provider and clients.

Malaysian health providers were quick to adopt digital health solutions when community restrictions were mounted against the coronavirus pandemic. The earliest among them was Sunway Medical Centre which offered teleconsultations at the start of the country-wide lockdown. It also developed a patient portal to facilitate bookings and retrieval of radiology results online.


"Our efforts – be they digital or physical – should reach patients irrespective of where they are. Hence, equal emphasis should be placed on physical channels that support providing the continuum of care with patients outside of healthcare institutions, and help relieve the capacity burdens faced by hospitals, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic," said Jayasundera.

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