The country should leverage on the Telemedicine Blueprint 1997, an initiative by the government to employ the use of telehealth in the healthcare system, instead of looking at new facilities and systems to address the growing demand for healthcare services.
Malaysian Medical Association president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan said the telehealth system could support hospitals in providing primary care and ensure a more efficient use of resources and facilities in an already-stretched public healthcare system.
“We need not re-invent the wheel. What perhaps is required is to make the telehealth initiative viable, sustainable and acceptable.
“As outlined in the blueprint, telehealth services can be used to re-allocate resources from curative services and tertiary care facilities to preventive and promotion services at the primary level. Technology can be used extensively to promote preventive medicine and health promotion activities which will reduce healthcare costs significantly.”
He said although Malaysia had a relatively young population, it was moving towards an aging population. The proportion of population aged 65 years and above had increased to 5.3 per cent last year compared with 3.9 per cent in 2000.
“Rising longevity brings with it increasingly complex and chronic health conditions, placing greater demands on health and social care services and raising the cost of healthcare.
“The number of admissions and outpatient visits will increase. It will be a challenge to meet this demand.”
It had been estimated that annually there was a three per cent increase in admissions to public hospitals.
Dr Tharmaseelan said in the last five years, the country has had only 132 hospitals. Only one more will be added in the next five years.
“This is inadequate. Tertiary health centres in state capitals must function only as tertiary hospitals. However, because of inadequate facilities, these tertiary centres are forced to cater and offer primary and secondary care. As a result, we find most tertiary hospitals are cramped and overcrowded and the staff overworked.”
Arjen Radder, president of Philips Healthcare, Asia Pacific, who was in the country recently, said healthcare resources in many countries were used mostly by hospitals to solve problems that could be managed outside of hospitals.
He said while countries could add more hospital beds and train more doctors and nurses, it was not a sustainable approach to support the level of healthcare an aging population and the rise of chronic diseases demand.
With the right technology in place, Radder said, homes could become a natural extension of the care continuum and this would lift the pressure off hospitals and improve the quality of care.
He said it could also create opportunities for earlier intervention, which might reduce the frequency of expensive hospital-based care and avoid readmissions.
“People would much rather stay at home than be admitted to hospitals. Managing patients from home has been proven to be successful in reducing length of stay in hospitals and mortality rates.
“With the use of technology, we can enable the exchange of data between patients and healthcare professionals to facilitate diagnosis, monitoring, and management of long- term conditions.”
Philips recently established a dedicated Hospital to Home business for Asia Pacific with regional headquarters and competence centre in Singapore.
It sought to enable connected care from hospital to home by offering readmission management consulting, telehealth solutions and a personal health portal to engage patients and their families in their own health.
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