23 May 2024

Despite the disruptions COVID-19 has caused in the way healthcare is delivered in many countries, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future

We have learned a great deal from the recent pandemic but perhaps the most important lesson is the necessity to rethink how healthcare is delivered to the people. One interesting insight derived from the experience, according to Sharon Zaide, a medical doctor, is that when healthcare systems are challenged, the need to adopt and accept modern forms of technology becomes more prominent.”

Facilities overwhelmed

During the latest outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant in the middle of 2021, Thailand’s health ministrysounded the alarm about Bangkok’s lack of hospital beds and isolation facilities.

Even the Health Ministry’s Director General of the Department of Medical Services, Somsak Akkasip, was forced to admit in a news conference that “We do not have enough beds in hospitals. Even in big hospitals, intensive care units are filled.”

Due to the overwhelming number of new patients per day, authorities started recommending home isolation for milder cases. But issues like how to supply medicine and other healthcare services to patients isolating at home persisted.

Moreover, as hospitals and quarantine facilities filled up with patients, exposure to life-threatening germs and viruses soonbecame of major concern. In some countries in Asia, people afflicted with other illnesses not related to COVID were forced to forgo treatment and stay at home for fear of these so-called“hospital-acquired infections”.

Learning from experience

According to one health authority in Singapore, “COVID-19 has essentially confirmed the viability of delivering healthcaredifferently, outside hospital walls, with the increased use of modern technology like tele-medicine and other virtual healthcare services.”

One of the trends is the shift of care from hospital to home and community settings. The expansion of modes of care delivery and willingness of patients to self-monitor has opened new ways for healthcare to be administered,” the Singaporean health expert continued.

A statement on the website of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine of the National University of Singapore reads: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are revolutionizing nearly every aspect of healthcare. From data management to drug discovery and development to clinical practice and patient care, the innovations of AI continue to optimize and advance medical services.”

There is also a growing trend towards shifting from treatment to prevention, as healthcare providers focus on keeping populations healthier for longer, rather than just treating them when they are sick.

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Smart hospitals

Mr. Irvin Wong, Thailand-based former editor of MedicalTourism magazine, offers an interesting description of our future hospitals: “We expect the emergence of smart hospitals – those that use technology to bridge the gap between hospital care setting and home care.”

He said that one of the key features of the hospitals of the future will be telemedicine and predictive analytics. “For instance, there will be patients that can be monitored from home, thus saving resources and expenses for the patient,and resulting in reduced bed capacity for the hospital. Using modern forms of technology, medical professionals will be able to carry out virtual wellness checks and monitor their patients remotely.”

If realized, these changes in the hospital setting are expected to give patients a better experience and improve treatment and rehabilitation results. “Rather than the hospital serving as the hub of care, smart hospitals of the future will become centers of excellence for specialized care or highly acute conditions in place of other traditional hospital services,” he said.

A doctor at one of the leading hospitals in Bangkok agrees, saying, “instead of being one fixed location, the hospital of the future is a network which is flexible enough to deliver highly complex care to large numbers of new patients in ever-changing locations, while continuing to provide regular and elective care to the rest of the population.

Impeccable reputation

During the pre-pandemic years, hospitals in Thailand had enjoyed huge popularity among international medical tourists, owing mainly to the quality of medical facilities and reputation of Thai doctors worldwide. Mr. Wong revealed that Thai hospitals used to be an easy destination of choice among tourists because of the presence of internationally accredited hospitals all over the country, be it in metropolitan Bangkok or down south in Phuket.

“Thai hospitals have been known among the growing number of medical tourists for always taking advantage of advanced technology. We are never left behind,” he said. He also believes that very soon smart hospitals will proliferate in Thailand.When more care is delivered in the community, there is the opportunity to use the space within hospital buildings differently. With fewer patients in the hospital, hospital spaces could mean more spacious wards for patients who do still need to be treated in hospital, or new features to make the patients’ overall experience more comfortable,” he concluded.