Key lessons learnt from the COVID-19 responses in APAC

In the final episode of HIMSS APAC Digital Dialogue Series hosted by Dr Charles Alessi, HIMSS Chief Clinical Officer, guest speaker Tim Kelsey, Senior Vice President, HIMSS Analytics International joins Dr Alessi as they provide a summary and discussion of some of the key lessons from the various APAC countries in their handling of the pandemic.

Summary of episodes

The first episode of the series featured Taikang Health care in China, in which Francis Qiu, Chief Hospital Commissioning Officer, provided insights on the use of robotics in drugs and food delivery, particularly in protecting their aged care clients against COVID-19. 

Dr Tan Cher Heng, Assistant Chairman Medical Board (Clinical Research and Innovation), at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in Singapore in episode two explained how TTSH managed to prevent nosocomial infections of COVID-19, using tech to manage potential COVID-19 patients and non COVID-19 patients.  Barry Chaiken, Clinical Lead, Healthcare, Tableau in the same episode emphasized the value of information dashboards for hospitals and health systems, both in normal times and crisis periods such as during a pandemic.

In the case of South Korea in episode three, Dr Hwang Hee, Chief Information Officer, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, South Korea and Kim Dong-Hee, Country Leader, Philips, South Korea shared their thoughts on what was done differently to manage the COVID-19 situation in the country, and how telehealth might look like post COVID-19.

In episode four, Professor Dr Tunku Kamarul Zaman bin Tunku Zainol Abidin, Director, University Malaya Medical Center (UMMC) and Dr Fazilah Shaik Allaudin, Senior Deputy Director, Medical Development Division, Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia spoke their respective organizations’ approach to containing the outbreak and discussed COVID-19’s impact on telehealth in Malaysia.

Japan’s Kazumi Nishikawa, Director, Healthcare Industries Division, Industry Policy Group, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) shared in episode five on his role as a ‘marriage broker’ between SMEs and MNCs to support the country’s efforts in fighting the pandemic through coordinated productions of key supplies such as PPE. Professor Tomohiro Kuroda, CIO, Kyoto University Hospital (KUHP) also explained how his hospital made use of tech to manage COVID-19 cases, and use of telecommunication tools to protect both healthcare workers and patients.

In Thailand, Dr Kwin Sirikwin, an ophthalmologist at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute (BIDI) & Executive Committee Member of the Thai Medical Informatics Association and Dr Surangkana Techapaitoon, Deputy CEO of Samitivej and BNH Group of Hospitals & Director, Samitivej Children’s Hospital shared during episode six on how the pandemic was handled from a public health perspective and private healthcare perspective respectively.

Lastly, Dr Teresa Anderson, Chief Executive, Sydney Local Health District, Dr Zoran Bolevich, Chief Executive, eHealth NSW, Tim Kelsey, Senior Vice President, HIMSS Analytics International and Matt Moran, Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand, Philips discussed in episode seven how the state of NSW mobilized and coordinated their efforts in combating the pandemic.

Key lessons learnt

Dr Alessi said that countries that had the most comprehensive and coordinated responses to the pandemic seem to be those that had a recent memory of an adverse event that had happened not that long before. Examples include other types of coronaviruses such as SARS, H1N1 and MERS.

“Countries that were actually affected (the above adverse events) really seem to be better prepared,” he said. 

The second lesson that Dr Alessi mentioned is that solutions need to be country-specific, there is no ‘recipe’ which can be plugged into a country – like healthcare, it has to be country-specific and also, the solution is bigger than each part of the country. 

“It’s not just about the hospital sector and ignoring community care, it’s not just about government and ignoring the (healthcare) providers, and that of course brings about the importance of interoperability.” 

The real example based on those two lessons is that of South Korea where they had the foresight after their SARS epidemic to really look at legislation and they have very strict rules around data governance and data privacy. They changed the legislations after the SARS outbreak to allow track and trace which would not be allowed because of personal privacy and only allowed during a pandemic. 

Solutions also need to be focused on non COVID-19 cases, as they can be easily ignored when dealing with the pandemic. In some countries, the number of excess deaths from non COVID-19 during the pandemic were not very different from those associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Countries that have a decent infrastructure around digital transformation and are on the journey towards delivering better digital health services were much better prepared for the pandemic. These countries were also much better able to respond to COVID-19. The pandemic can be seen as an enabler for something which is far bigger, and that is the digital transformation of healthcare systems.

Reflecting on Dr Alessi’s pointers, Kelsey recalled how the use of My Health Record in Australia helped a pharmacist in Townsville, North Queensland be able to retrieve digital pharmacy records of patients after the city had been affected by floods. This helped reduced possible errors in dispensing medicine and keeping people out of harm’s way.

“Digital health is not about technology, it is about outcomes, it is about the quality and safety of healthcare.” 

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