It is an exciting time to be in Asia. The region is seeing dynamic growth in healthcare innovation, in response to the ballooning demand for quality, cost-effective care.

This shift is timely, as governments are doubling or even tripling their spending in this area. The total healthcare spending of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam was an estimated $420 billion in 2017, and is projected to increase by 70 per cent over the next two decades, according to the World Economic Forum.

Here are four trends that are transforming the healthcare landscape in Asia.

1. Preventing clinician burnout

One area that needs more attention is healthcare worker burnout. According to U.S. non-profit National Academy of Medicine, physician burnout reached an all-time high in 2019, with 79 per cent of U.S.-based doctors reporting that they suffer from it.

Dr. Jade Kua, senior consultant in the Emergency Medicine Department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Singapore, touched on this topic at a 2019 conference designed to showcase government innovation, organised by GovInsider and the National Innovation Agency of Thailand. “We can use innovation and data to maybe better plan our shifts so that our healthcare workers are not constantly tired,” she said.

2. Using big data to better prescribe antibiotics

To tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance, hospitals in Singapore have set up Antibiotic Stewardship Units (ASU). This phenomenon is one of the most defining challenges of modern day medicine; between 20 and 50 per cent of acute care hospitals in the United States are not prescribing antibiotics appropriately, with similar rates in Singapore.

But the work is largely manual. The ASU in Singapore General Hospital is now taking part in a data analytics trial to speed up the process of determining the best antibiotic for patients, based on their medical history, stress levels and other factors. This way, clinicians can predict which antibiotic to prescribe for specific conditions, with a helping hand from artificial intelligence.

3. 5G to enable greater access to healthcare services

In technological superpower China, the 5G revolution is enabling transformative advances in healthcare. Crucially, these advances are helping to bridge the gaps in access to healthcare.

Doctors in the Third People’s Hospital of Chengdu are currently carrying out remote ultrasounds of patients in remote hospitals — made possible by the ultra-low latency rates of 5G. “There is no lag time at all in the discussion between doctors,” Assistant Head Doctor Zhou Yang was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Jiahui Health group in Shanghai is looking at trialling “real-time, live surgery across borders, across physical distances,” according to Chief Medical Officer (Dy) Dr. Koh Hautek. “We can be operating on a patient somewhere in the inland part of China or outside of China even.”

4. Lean management in healthcare

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, lean management is helping hospitals operate much more efficiently while managing their bottom line.

For Dr. Zakirul Karim, senior adviser and quality management director of Hanh Phuc International Hospital, lean management is transforming how his hospital operates, and how it engages with staff. “Gemba walks”, inspired by lean practices at carmaker Toyota, help management teams identify and eliminate wasteful processes, and at the same time, come up with ways to make their clinicians’ lives better, according to Dr. Zakirul.

Technology is an incredible enabler for more accurate disease diagnoses, better doctor-patient relationships, greater healthcare access, more collaborative ways of working across care teams —  and the list goes on. The future of healthcare is unfolding before our very eyes.