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DOH, experts stress urgent need for healthcare industry digitalization

As the country continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry feels the strongest pressure to evolve much quicker than any other industry.

“It’s a difficult time for hospitals,” said Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag.

“They had to demonstrate agility in suddenly building capacity to be able to accommodate COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. This meant changes in management of their hospital systems, their information systems, human resources and logistics," he added.

Dr. Tayag, together with Cisco ASEAN Industry Advisor for Healthcare Kenan Yorucu and other prominent healthcare experts shared insights into the state of the country’s healthcare system during Cisco’s Executive Live Series entitled “Navigating the Shift."

“We had to provide hospitals support on technology and other innovations so they can adapt. On the other hand, hospitals that falter have to look at their systems and seriously look at their future because of the uncertainties of this pandemic and beyond,” Tayag said.

“The Department of Health is looking at avenues to establish the foundations for the new normal and make sure that technology is available for them," he added.

The first line of defense the DOH set up to cope with the pandemic is telemedicine via teleconferencing solutions, providing patients the option to seek medical help at home.

This also allowed healthcare providers to administer services without exposing themselves to pandemic risks, as well as eased up capacity in overburdened hospitals. For private hospitals, this strategy proved to be effective as well.

“Services that used to be delivered exclusively at hospitals became available through home care and telemedicine,” said Kristian Sumabat, Makati Medical Center Chief Information Officer.

“The technologies we’ve implemented in the past few months worked towards the mobility of our healthcare providers," Sumabat added.

According to Yorucu, Philippine hospitals are at par with other markets in terms of technology adoption.

“At Cisco, we’re seeing an increased adoption of telehealth and telemedicine services across the ASEAN region. Patients are also taking advantage of mobile network and mobile devices as a platform for these services,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest innovation in the healthcare industry is the closer attention to patient experience, supported by automation and the internet of things, enabling doctors and practitioners to provide efficient healthcare without compromising their own health.

For progressive hospitals like Makati Medical Center, enterprise-grade connectivity and technology enabled them to continue their high level of service despite pandemic disruptions.

“We've been using Cisco as our core wireless connectivity partner for several years, and we're very happy with how agile their platform is. It’s not just a network but a solution that’s become more intelligent over the years,” said Sumabat.

“Through the data that we gather over this solution, we’ve learned patterns and behaviors that provide analytic insights for policy changes. As an example, we learned early on that infection among healthcare workers happened not on the floors where they're protected by personal protective equipment but when they're eating in the pantry when their masks are off and talking to each other. This prompted many changes both in our physical spaces and in our protocols.”

Cybersecurity also remains an utmost priority as hospitals handle sensitive information -- for the healthcare industry, data privacy is an aspect they cannot compromise..

“Hospitals would have to deploy a lot of telemedicine and tele-consultation services very rapidly and there's always a balance between the ease of use. We are one of the leading security providers in the world and all of our security solutions are integrated into our technology platforms,” said Yorucu.

“Healthcare is a natural target and cyberattacks are on the rise. We know the cost of healthcare breaches are high for organizations.”

For Tayag, the future is digital as the DOH has already embraced AI solutions to enhance its operations and delivery of services.

“We’ve been working with Cisco on finding solutions for this pandemic, and we’re already highly integrated with Artificial Intelligence. We have AI-supported chat-bots on social media, helping patients with necessary information. We also use AI for data analytics and prediction models," Tayag said.

Topics: COVID-19 , Eric Tayag , Department of Health , Makati Medical Center , Kenan Yorucu
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