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The digital opportunity for Healthcare

Fresh from managing and transitioning the nation from coronavirus pandemic to endemic stage, Malaysia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) sees no reason to set itself the new target of having 10 million healthy people in ten years through efficient non-communicable disease (NCD) management.

This goal is just one in a raft of reforms the MOH wants to implement which is contained in the Healthcare White Paper, a policy document that outlines how the ministry wants to move forward in the next 15 years.

Dr. Fazilah

This document outlines how the healthcare system will be structured, governed, financed and more, and Dr. Fazilah Shaik Allaudin, Senior Deputy Director, Planning Division at MOH emphasised, “The most important thing is we want to bring this whitepaper to parliament to garner bi-partisan support for it.”

The Healthcare White Paper

This whitepaper is crucial to futureproof healthcare in the country, as well as address existing gaps and challenges that emerged during the pandemic. “You know, the pandemic has actually revealed a lot of weaknesses and gaps in the system, and the whitepaper is broad and seeks to address gaps in the health system as a whole.”

She explained that the HWP focuses upon delivery of health services, preventive and promotion of healthcare, equitable healthcare financing and strengthening of the health system foundations, including MOH’s role and the healthcare workforce.

This goal is just one in a raft of reforms the MOH wants to implement which is contained in the Healthcare White Paper, a policy document that outlines how the ministry wants to move forward in the next 15 years.

“And we are also talking about sustainable business models, it covers the future and the use of technology, innovation, and community empowerment in healthcare,” Dr. Fazilah described, and added that another important component to the HWP is the establishment of a Health Reform Commission which would monitor the implementation of reforms.

But complementing all of these are also much needed town halls, and stakeholder engagement sessions. “This will be a public document, once it is ready,” she assured.

Health information exchange (HIE)

This whitepaper is set to be tabled in Parliament in November, and would be pivotal in laying a foundation to help springboard healthcare.

Another critical foundation to help the healthcare system push forward is a long overdue EMR, or Electronic Medical Records system.

Without a doubt there has been an upwards digital transformation trajectory because of the pandemic.  Digital initiatives really accelerated this year, and one of this is the pretty significant health information exchange (HIE) platform.

Dr. Fazilah shared, “We had started our HIE project late last year and since we use the agile (development) method, our first cycle platform is ready to be launched at end of September, 2022 in Negeri Sembilan.”

The pilot at Negeri Sembilan is the location for the first phase of the project which uses a cluster concept. The first cluster comprises of 3 hospitals, health clinics, as well as dental clinics.

“There will be a total of four cycles and by the end of next year, we hope to have a developed and mature HIE platform that focuses on horizontal integration.”

According to Dr.Fazilah, the first cycle focuses upon continuity of care, care coordination, and also a person portal for community and individual empowerment, as well as analytics.

At the same time, development of a virtual clinic platform has also begun and this is to be integrated with the HIE platform. The virtual clinic platform will be used in hospitals and clinics.

“With the HIE platform, MOH wants to prove the concept of integrated and coordinated care, in Negeri Sembilan,” she explained.

The pilot at Negeri Sembilan is the location for the first phase of the project which uses a cluster concept. The first cluster comprises of 3 hospitals, health clinics, as well as dental clinics.

At the end of the day, the HIE platform will support the creation of EHR, or Electronic Health Records which specifically involves lifetime health record of a patient’s episodes of care throughout their lifetime, at different health facilities, care settings, and their homes.

Emerging tech

The national  Digital Economy Blueprint charts growth trajectory in the areas of emerging technology. “A lot of initiatives are moving forward under the MOH’s MyDigital initiatives and we are being monitored by this programme, which also includes a lot of inter-agency collaboration.”

Another initiative is the National Technology Innovation Sandbox (NTIS), which MOH is leveraging and launched the Health Technology Hubs involving five hospitals.

She explained, “These are actually test sites to facilitate new solutions that are above technology readiness level 6 (TRL6).    

At the end of the day, the HIE platform will support the creation of EHR, or Electronic Health Records which specifically involves lifetime health record of a patient’s episodes of care throughout their lifetime, at different health facilities, care settings, and their homes.

“And the aim is to accelerate commercialisation of mainly local technology and solutions, with test sites, funding and regulatory facilitation managed by NTIS’ lead secretariat MRANTI, which is also the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation.

But, there is more.

Some lessons learnt from the pandemic include the need to have a disease control system that is end-to-end and has analytics built into it. “So, that’s another project we are looking at together with the National Centre for Disease Control, which is being built in Bandar Enstek,” Dr. Fazilah said.

MySejahtera and the digital opportunity for healthcare

Malaysia’s Health Minister, YB Khairy Jamaluddin had recently shared with an ASEAN-level audience, “Unless there’s some coercion behind it, it’s very difficult to get a population- wide adoption of a particular digital platform… COVID gave us that opportunity.”

However one slices and dices it, the MySejahtera app had been instrumental in speedily executing a vaccine management programme that ensured vaccines reached the audiences that needed it.  https://www.enterpriseitnews.com.my/public-private-partnerships-in-action/ 

To help transition to an endemic phase and beyond, the MySejahtera app now serves another objective.

It has been repurposed to become a public health app, with more features added to it so the app can be integrated with the HIE platform.

Currently, it is facilitating a nationwide health screening programme aimed at one million Malaysians who have never been screened before, by sharing information and sending notices for screening, as well as enabling them to carry their health results.

Might this digital opportunity be the segue MOH is looking for to manage NCDs in the country?

It has been repurposed to become a public health app, with more features added to it so the app can be integrated with the HIE platform.

This may be the case, but it has to be complemented by the various other digital efforts simultaneously taking place, that are outlined above. To underline this all, as well as ensure that all of these efforts come to fruition, the Healthcare White Paper must do its part and achieve its objective.

Conclusion

Dr. Fazilah emphasised the role of public-private partnerships, saying, “Without it, we would not have been able to achieve what we have today.”

Post-pandemic, this partnership has been further intensified and earlier in the day before EITN’s chat with Dr. Fazilah, the MOH together with ProtectHealth, received a Malaysia record for “most vaccination doses administered in one day.” This was possible due to active and close partnership with private GP clinics and healthcare providers in the country.

In conclusion, Dr. Fazilah surmised, “We must do it.. it’s long overdue. We must move towards reform and it’s high time we go into action. We need support from all levels of government and society, to move this agenda forward.”

“We have come a long way, you know, and today we really have that political will and political push… we must take the opportunity.”