The Health Beat: Telehealth In S.E.A

Healthcare in Southeast Asia is extremely lacking in funds and infrastructure. Many living in countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and more do not have access to quality healthcare. However, innovative alternatives to traditional healthcare are appearing as technology advances, and they are already evident in Cambodia.

STATE OF HEALTHCARE IN THE REGION

The graph below depicts the healthcare expenditure per capita of various countries in Southeast Asia:1*Total health expenditure is the sum of public and private health expenditures as a ratio of total population.

Cambodia’s standing is low, with just a mere US$51 per capita for healthcare spending. Malaysia stands at US$410. In comparison, healthhub Singapore (not depicted) has a high expenditure at US$2,426.

In terms of hospitals in the regional, district and provincial categories, this is how Cambodia fared against Thailand:

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Thailand has significantly more medical locations than Cambodia, and the huge difference is further emphasised in the graph below depicting the number of health posts each country has:

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Going deeper, the number of medical workers in the country. The significant shortage means that people do not get efficient healthcare, which is critical for many cases:

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Though Cambodia falls way below the regional average, large portions of the region still fail to meet the World Health Organisation’s basic healthcare workforce standards.

HOW TECHNOLOGY IS HELPING HEALTHCARE

Improving healthcare takes billions of dollars for new infrastructure, devices etc., and this does not come simply. Instead, entrepreneurs, companies and organisations all over the region are using technology such as mobile applications to improve healthcare delivery.

This is termed telehealth – delivering health-related information and services through telecommunications technologies. These could be as simple as a call to a pharmacist or as innovative as mHealth applications.

Already present in Southeast Asia, these applications allows anyone with a smartphone to consult an experienced doctor for free wherever they are, whenever they want. Dokita and Doctor Gratis are two such examples from Indonesia:

Shots

mClinica uses mobile technology to connect pharmaceutical companies to pharmacies, making healthcare better for patients. They do this with three types of mobile applications: Provider, Medical Rep and Patient.

mClinica

Provider is a reference application that healthcare providers can use for the patient at the point of care. Medical Rep is helps to educate healthcare providers. Patient is catered, of course, for all patients. It increases the patient’s knowledge of their condition, and can advise them to take their medication as prescribed for better health.

Founded in Silicon Valley, they recently began operations in the Philippines and have already obtained funding to expand into Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

TELEHEALTH IN CAMBODIA

In Cambodia, InSTEDD uses GeoChat, a collaborative flexible open source group communications technology. It allows anyone to chat, report and get real-time alerts on their mobile phones.

It is used to share outbreak information from neighbouring countries and to support the sharing of information between operational districts and health centers. All these contribute to the efficiency with which disease protocols can be implemented and those in rural areas can be warned.

The Malaria Consortium also uses telehealth in their efforts to eradicate malaria in Cambodia. One of their methods is the day 0 alert system, where SMSes for day 0 malaria cases are sent to alert district officials to take action. It now covers 184 village malaria workers and 17 health centres to report all cases. The system is extremely cost effective and simple to maintain, thanks to Mobitel who provides SIM cards and free SMSes.

Telehealth is definitely on the rise in Cambodia and will increasingly provide assistance to thousands here. Be it simple SMS technology or complicated application softwares, the state of healthcare is changing.