Digital disruption in healthcare unlikely to happen as quickly as in other sectors: Ong Ye Kung

Governments also want to be assured of public safety and efficacy of all treatments. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Digital disruption in healthcare is unlikely to happen as quickly as in other industries, given the complexity of the sector, according to Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Speaking at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Asia-Pacific Conference on Monday morning (Oct 18), he noted that digital technology has disrupted many industries, including telecommunications and entertainment, and that healthcare will not be an exception.

But healthcare is much more complex, he said. Consumers need to be confident that any alternative care model is good for themselves and their loved ones. When some people are unwell, they will want to seek a second or third opinion from doctors.

Governments also want to be assured of public safety and efficacy of all treatments, and insurers will want a say as they are a major payer of medical bills, the minister added.

Hence, there are significant policy, regulatory and public confidence issues to be addressed before digital technology can be fully harnessed to transform and improve healthcare systems around the world, he said.

Mr Ong then touched on three public policy concerns that need to be addressed.

The first is in population health. The management of chronic illnesses, in particular, should be preventive and done at the primary care level. Patient care will need to be carried out seamlessly across different settings - in hospitals, institutions and social agencies, as well as in the community.

And in preventive care, more data other than medical information will be needed. Timely and sufficient data on the wider determinants of health, such as lifestyle and home and work environments, will be necessary to design the right interventions ahead of time.

This will require the right information-sharing infrastructure, which leads to the second area of concern - healthcare IT infrastructure.

Singapore is working to enhance its healthcare IT infrastructure. Beyond summary records, the sharing of care teams' assessments and patients' care plans will enable common understanding of the condition and needs of the patient.

This will enhance patient care, Mr Ong said.

The third issue is data privacy. There has been a longstanding ethos in the health profession of treating patient data with confidentiality, in order to maintain trust in the individual doctor-patient relationship, and the social compact, Mr Ong said.

It is therefore important to respect the sensitivity of health information, he stressed.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung speaking at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Asia-Pacific Conference on Oct 18. PHOTO: HIMSS

However, with the advent of digital technology, there are immense opportunities as well as public good in ensuring that patients' health information can be shared across healthcare institutions and settings. These include enhancing health, improving care, advancing medical science and, ultimately, saving lives.

"A mindset of absolute medical confidentiality is no more suitable. We need to develop our policies and regulations on sharing personal health information, in a controlled way that serves the noble objectives of better healthcare but prevents misuse," Mr Ong said.

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