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Using tech to relieve pressure on our healthcare system

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More than $1 billion is spent on managing diabetic complications, but apps and nursebots can help as Singapore's population ages

Asia faces a crisis of financial sustainability in the healthcare sector. Asean alone spent more than US$63 billion (S$86.9 billion) on healthcare in 2013, and the region's ageing population and increasing rates of chronic disease mean that this figure is likely to double in the next decade.

Take Singapore as an example.

One in five Singaporeans will be over 65 by 2030, and two-thirds of these people will be managing at least one chronic condition. This will put significant pressure on the local healthcare system, and it is not the only pressure point.

Singapore spends more than $1 billion every year managing diabetic complications, and the number of Singaporean diabetics is expected to almost double from 400,000 in 2015 to 700,000 by 2030.

It goes without saying that this will add a huge cost and complexity to healthcare management, and it is only one of the many lifestyle diseases that are on the rise as a result of changing dietary and lifestyle habits across Asia.

Our already stretched healthcare system cannot keep up with the region's fast-growing demand for safe, high quality and accessible care.

We desperately need innovation in healthcare delivery to redirect us from our current "medicine and cost" model to a "care and value" approach.

Effective and affordable disease prevention measures are an important part of driving this shift.

We need to pinpoint people who are at risk of developing a chronic condition as early as possible and help them delay or prevent the onset of the disease.

This is where technology comes in. Data analytics can help us better understand disease trends and enable us to develop more effective pre-disease screening programmes.

This is an area Zuellig Pharma is focused on - we recently entered into a memorandum of understanding with one of Singapore's leading hospital groups to develop predictive models for early health screening using data analytics.

We also need to leverage technology to educate people about chronic disease risk factors.

Wearable devices and mobile apps are a good example of where this can work. They monitor a person's condition and use information, incentives and reminders to motivate people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

When used as part of a broader health management programme, these devices can deliver significant results.

For example, the health management programmes that Zuellig Pharma's subsidiary MiCare runs with corporate clients in Malaysia has helped to reduce new cases of chronic diseases among employees by up to 20 per cent.


Focusing on prevention alone will not solve the problem. We also need to help patients better manage their conditions.

It is estimated that up to 90 per cent of the world's 422 million diabetics do not have good control of their disease - an alarming statistic that has serious consequences.

Only 5 per cent to 7 per cent of the US$825 billion spent each year on managing diabetes goes to medication. The rest comes from treating complications.

We need to reverse this trend by empowering patients and extending care beyond clinic walls. This is where innovative solutions such as mobile apps and nursebots come in.

Mobile apps can monitor a patient's health parameters and send alerts if the patient is at risk of complications, while nursebots can provide patients with ongoing support as they manage long and complex treatment programmes.

These solutions, which are being developed by Zuellig Pharma, help patients without placing any additional burden on healthcare providers.

These are the types of solutions we need to embrace to alleviate pressure on our healthcare resources and ensure patients are getting the best possible care.

Our current model cannot sustain the demands of our changing population. Unless we dramatically change our approach, we will never be able to keep up with the region's fast-growing demand for healthcare.

The writer is vice-president, CareConnect, at Zuellig Pharma. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday.