Filling the healthcare gap

  • SME
  • Monday, 09 Dec 2019

Vital role: Tan says the private sector plays an important role in influencing the cost of healthcare and they can help contain costs.

AN expression such as “I would rather be dead than to be sick” changed Datuk Dr Tan Meng Lee’s perception on the state of the healthcare industry. Then a young doctor, he saw how unattainable medical care could impact the average person, summing up the real cost of what ills the medical industry.

“I was in a neighbouring country when I came across an acquaintance who was ill but couldn’t afford reasonable medical care. I was taken aback by the struggles that many people were actually facing due to the ever increasing cost in the medical industry, and I realised that something needs to be done so that more people can have access to decent healthcare services,” Tan says.

Aiming to make a difference, Tan decided to play an active role by using his knowledge in the healthcare industry to help map out the strategies that could eventually help to control the cost and open up access to decent healthcare.

Today, ASP Medical Group, a company founded by Tan 12 years ago, is at the forefront in helping to solve the medical cost problem with innovative solutions.

Hailing from Telok Intan, Perak, Tan trained as a dermatologist and went on to start his own aesthetic clinic 20 years ago. However, the need to address the cost of healthcare grew greater and Tan eventually moved on to set up ASP Medical.

The group primarily provides third party claims administration services, along with clinic management services and medicine and equipment supply, among other things.

Tan points out that some of the challenges faced by the healthcare industry include regulatory changes, evolving healthcare trends, increasing cost and technology advancements.

He also notes that private sector employers can play an important role in influencing the cost factor in healthcare inflation and there are many ways that they can help contain costs and outcomes to ensure access to and quality of care.

Using technology

In its quest to keep medical fees under control and increase accessibility to healthcare, ASP Medical has established a network of more than 1,000 healthcare providers, comprising primary care physicians, secondary care medical centres and tertiary care hospitals.

According to Tan, the group has made progress in reaching out to the private sector to promote the use of technologies and to embrace changes in lifestyle.

Through its network of healthcare providers, ASP Medical provides a range of services to more than 50 local and global companies. It currently has close to a million people in its database.

The company is also open to exploring potential strategic tie-ups, including a minority stake sale to a larger player or private equity firm with related medical portfolios, to gain access to new technologies in the medical services industry.

ASP MEdical will prioritise potential partners who have technologies and patents in the medical industry, or a large hospital network that could provide synergies to its existing businesses, he says.

It is now also looking at ways to lower the cost of medicine and drugs. The company is working on an online e-pharmacy platform that it hopes will lower the prices of drugs through bulk buying and a more efficient supply chain.

Its main healthcare services platform also provides customers or subscribers with healthcare advice and useful tips on healthy living, ensuring that information is easily available to the public.

The group has also developed an app to furnish consumers with vital information like locations of pharmacies and hospitals, as well as provide users a one-stop platform for healthcare services such as online consultation, referrals, registration, inpatient arrangements, second medical opinions and one-hour medicine delivery.

One of its most important features is that it allows users to book their appointments and have access to all medical reports and prescriptions without any hassle, and helps facilitate cashless treatment at panel medical and dental clinics. The app also offers urgent care, behavioral health services, preventative health care and chronic care.

In addition, these digital-based platforms enable the company to gather real-time data and reveal insights that would help doctors improve their delivery to the patients.

Another important component in ASP’s service is the Electronic Health Records (EHRs) which replaces outdated paper records. This, says Tan, has been a massive game changer for everyone in the medical field. By accessing patient records digitally, it allows medical coding experts to work from home, which minimises cost from increased efficiency and productivity.

Preventive measures

One of the biggest challenges faced by ASP Medical is the broad and complicated spectrum of the healthcare industry. According to Tan, the industry encompasses three key divisions, namely, the primary, secondary and tertiary care.

ASP Medical is currently present in the first two segments.

In both the primary and secondary care, procedures such as health screenings and blood tests help in prevention of locally endemic diseases and treatment of common diseases or injuries. They also enable provision of essential facilities, health education and inform provision of food and nutrition.

Tan advocates a holistic approach in taking care of one’s health. Not only will this reduce the cost of seeking healthcare services, it is also vital for one’s wellbeing.

He highlights that the top causes of claims based on dollar value are cancer, gastrointestinal and intervertebral disorders, which are largely due to lifestyle choices.

To encourage more people to take preventive measures, the company has also put in place a points and reward system to motivate its subscribers to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to be proactive in taking stock of their health milestones through steps like health screenings. Tan says this is one of the keys to keeping healthcare costs low as it helps to prevent the need for additional care or treatment.

As a business, the company is taking a similar approach by seeking out expansion opportunities before the market becomes too competitive.

Tan is keen to tap into overseas markets to expand and take the company beyond Malaysia. He has been scouting for opportunities in the region, with hopes to expand its services to Singapore, Indonesia and Taiwan.

ASP Medical is fully owned by Tan. Currently, its operations are mainly focused in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The group has more than 400 employees and a turnover of more than RM100mil in 2018.

Going forward, Tan says ASP is also in the midst of establishing a specialist medical centre to provide specialised intensive care units, advanced diagnostic support services and specialised medical personnel in the key features of tertiary health care.

This will improve the provision of care for patients and reduce costs as clinics do not necessarily have to be staffed 24 hours a day.

Tan says the company continues to regard technology as the driving force behind improvements in healthcare by creating resources that allow medical professionals to track, retrieve and utilise valuable data in the fight to control diseases and provide better healthcare.

Medical inflation

There has been a general trend of rising healthcare costs, particularly for private hospital admissions, surgeries and medications.

The 2019 Global Medical Trend Rates Report published earlier this year by Aon, an international professional services consulting firm, forecasts net growth of 13.6% in Malaysia’s medical inflation rates for the current year – almost 5.7 times the forecast for the rate of general inflation in the country.

Similarly, according to the Mercer Marsh Benefits 2019 Medical Trends around the World report, in 2018, Asia saw medical costs increased by an average of 10.4%, compared to the global average of 9.7%.

In Malaysia, however, that figure has risen 13.4%. The results of the survey by Marsh Insurance Brokers showed that all the participants in Malaysia expect the change in rates this year to be higher than 2018’s projection.

The survey also identified a rising number of people getting sick, an ageing population and costly technologies as among the top three reasons behind the rise.

According to doctor-turned-entrepreneur Tan, among the top three reasons for the growing inflationary pressure on medical costs are increased utilisation of medical services as more people are falling sick, the growing number of ageing population and the costly advancement of new medical technology.

While Malaysia does have an extensive public healthcare service, very often they are not sufficient to cover all the medical needs or demand from the public, partly due to cost factors.

“The lack of capacity often leads to, among others, long lines of patients and time-consuming waiting rooms can get tiring for the elderly, and make healthcare feel like a burden,” says Tan.

The increasing investment by healthcare providers, costly equipment and the higher cost of drugs and treatment are among the factors driving the inflation.

He adds that controlling the rise of medical inflation in Malaysia requires a concerted effort from the entire healthcare ecosystem, as insurance is only one component of a link that includes the health regulator, the hospitals and doctors.

Being a tech junkie himself, Tan says ASP Medical has focused its resources to launch as many innovative medical products as possible, such as medical mobile app, health tracking, telemedic and electronic medical systems to help address the issue of affordability and accessibility.

Keeping up with regulatory changes is another challenging aspect that people in the medical industry have to deal with.

However, Tan says shaping the organisation to be innovative has helped to keep the group one step ahead in offering solutions to one of the biggest issues with far-reaching impact to the public.

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Tan Meng Lee , healthcare industry


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