E-health forging new opportunities
By Chang Shih-sheng and Hsu Kuo-wei 張詩聖，徐國偉
The digital New Southbound Policy is a national strategic plan based on Taiwan’s economic development needs and the principle of diversified development, combining the nation’s strengths in industry, government, academia and research to increase its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The information and communications technology (ICT) industry is also one of Taiwan’s strengths, as is healthcare.
On Sept. 9 last year, the Executive Yuan proposed a set of amendments to the 2017 Act for the Development of Biotech and New Pharmaceuticals Industry (生技新藥產業發展條例). As well as deleting the word “new” from the act’s title, it added clauses concerning digital medical treatment, also known as e-health. “Big data,” cloud computing and artificial intelligence are to be applied to the field of medical treatment and healthcare to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
The middle class is starting to represent a growing proportion of the population of ASEAN members, and economic development has changed their diets, leading to a steady increase in the number of people with diabetes and other chronic diseases, which in turn has resulted in a surge in demand for healthcare. ASEAN governments are therefore vigorously implementing policies related to medicine and healthcare, and related business opportunities are growing.
Singapore was an early adopter of digitalization in medicine and healthcare. Its strategy emphasizes international links, and it aims to position itself as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region.
Other ASEAN countries have weaker infrastructure and relatively low medical capacity, but they are highly receptive to digital innovations and therefore focus on e-health applications such as health-related Web sites and telemedicine, with the aim of developing these technologies locally.
ASEAN countries also have long-standing problems of insufficient healthcare labor and uneven distribution of health workers between urban and rural areas. These conditions also offer opportunities for Taiwan.
Telemedicine is one of the important applications of e-health. For example, telemedicine was the starting point for e-health development in the Philippines. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine in countries around the world.
Private hospitals and clinics, including that in which the authors of this article work, are using technology to make up for the shortage of medical resources in rural areas by providing telemedicine services to care for people living in such areas. The economic growth of ASEAN members has also widened the gap between urban and rural areas, but telemedicine can balance the allocation of medical resources.
Private hospitals and clinics in Taiwan have been cooperating with the government’s New Southbound Policy by developing international medical services and promoting telemedicine.
They have also formed alliances with ICT businesses to provide integrated platforms for international telemedicine consultation systems and offer comprehensive services to meet a wide range of medical needs.
Children’s growth is an issue that every parent is concerned about, and bone age studies are an important measure in assessing their growth.
The medical institution in which we work has developed an artificial-intelligence model based on data analysis to predict children’s bone age, and transferred this technology to one of Taiwan’s leading e-health businesses. Some of the resulting products have been given medical device licenses by the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and their makers have also applied for US FDA licenses.
As well as being deployed in Taiwanese hospitals, this technology can also provide services to potential overseas clients over the Internet. As such, there is already a basis for exporting this technology and proceeding to develop the Indo-Pacific market.
Among the various modes of exporting services, the mainstay of e-health at the current stage is “consumption abroad” by inviting people from overseas to come to Taiwan for medical treatment.
The industry is following an “inbound” strategy of “one country, one center,” meaning that Taiwan has one medical center to serve clients from each ASEAN member.
However, the nation can strive to promote two other export modes, namely “cross-border supply” and “commercial presence.”
Of these, cross-border supply of services can initially mainly consist of medical institution management and related activities other than direct medical treatment, such as the bone age studies.
On the other hand, achieving a commercial presence is a long-term task. Taiwan’s healthcare businesses can initially focus on fields such as long-term care, and using digital technology and artificial intelligence to form strategic alliances with medical institutions and related ecosystems in target regions to promote the internationalization of services that involve digital technology applications.
The government can consider employing this strategy to give Taiwanese businesses a chance to train their teams, thus helping healthcare providers respond to new forms of competition by making early deployments in international markets.
Chang Shih-sheng is executive secretary of China Medical University Hospital (CMUH). Hsu Kuo-wei is chief information officer of Ever Fortune AI and a consultant of CMUH.
Translated by Julian Clegg
The original text is reprinted from 【2022-03-26/ Taipei Times】