Healthy outlook for health information technology

HEALTH information technology (IT) has great potential for growth globally in the wake of rising healthcare costs and demand for better healthcare, according to US-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) president Stephen Lieber.

“Health IT is one of the key components to help improve the cost and quality of healthcare,” he told StarBiz.

Lieber was in Malaysia to attend the HIMSS Asia Pacific conference held in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Citing an example, Lieber said the quality of patient care could be improved via an electronic health record system where all the data and medical treatment given to the patient were accessible, so that correct and timely treatment could be given to the patient.

There is also a clinical decision support system where suggestions are offered to doctors preparing for the next round of treatment for the patient.

“Having electronic medical record systems also avoids unnecessary or ineffective tests on patients as whatever tests that are done would be available at a glance.

“This will avoid any repeat tests which may not be necessary if the patient’s condition is unchanged thus increasing costs. If there was more information available about the patient, certain tests may not even be necessary,” Lieber said, adding that healthcare savings were estimated at 20% to 25% in the United States due to the use of IT.

In the United States, electronic health record systems are used mainly in the radiology, cardiology, laboratory and opthalmology departments.

HIMSS vice-president and executive director (Asia-Pacific region) Steven Yeo said that in the Asian region, Hong Kong and Singapore were expected to launch an electronic health record system for all their hospitals next year.

Australia, South Korea and Japan were exploring the possibility of integrating the electronic health record systems among their hospitals, while Malaysia and Singapore had such systems in place but no integration yet, he said.

“In Asia, spending on health IT has grown by 10% to 12% in the past two years.

“There is great potential for further growth for health IT in the region – at least a compounded annual growth rate of 11% in the next five years.

“This is because there is a realisation that health IT can improve quality of care and reduce rising healthcare costs. Asia also has a large ageing population and a lot has to be spent on them in the next 10 to 15 years,” he said.

The Middle East is another area where significant growth in IT spending is expected as a number of countries there have not invested much in health IT in the past.

In addition, some Middle Eastern countries have also put in significant resources in new hospitals and are building up the healthcare infrastructure in their countries.

High growth is also expected in emerging markets such as China, Thailand, Malaysia, India and the Philippines.

Yeo said based on the 2006 data on healthcare spending per capita in the Asian region, Australia was the highest at US$2,600; South Korea, Singapore and Japan at over US$1,000; Malaysia US$200; and China and India US$60.

According to Lieber, health IT spending in the United States was estimated to be US$30bil to US$35bil over the next five years due to a newly-passed government legislation that would provide incentives to the healthcare industry to acquire technology.

“We are on the verge of a tremendous explosion in IT adoption in the healthcare industry in the US,” he said.

Nevertheless, Lieber sees various challenges in the adoption of health IT globally.

“The technology exists but the biggest barrier is funding. There is also the resistance to changes that technology brings, such as a change of work processes for physicians,” he said.

HIMSS is a global non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting a better understanding of healthcare information and management systems.

Founded in 1961, it has offices in Chicago, Washington DC, Brussels, Singapore and globally. HIMSS represents more than 20,000 individual and over 350 corporate members.

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