Over four fifths (81%) of respondents in a regional healthcare survey say technology has improved their access to health services and nearly two thirds (60%) believe it has improved affordability.
This finding is revealed in the inaugural the “Pulse of Asia — The Health of Asia Barometer”, released yesterday. Written by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and supported by Prudential Corporation Asia, the report explores attitudes to healthcare in Asia, highlights the demand for tools and services to help people in the region better navigate the healthcare system. It also highlights the opportunity for governments to partner with the private sector to maximise the potential of digital healthcare.

The report, which surveyed 5,000 adults across 13 markets in Asia in the second half of 2020, found that only around half of respondents (54%) believe that medical care is accessible and affordable. More concerningly, less than a quarter (22%) say they can easily access exercise and fitness facilities that would help improve their personal health and wellness in the coming year.

The report also says that consumer appetite towards the digitisation of health shows no sign of abating—71% of those surveyed said they will rely on technology even more heavily three years from now to improve their personal health and wellbeing.

The main findings of the research are as follows:

Ample information does not necessarily lead to good health decisions.

Survey respondents have no shortage of personal health information available to them, although the quality of the information varies. A slight majority of respondents report sourcing health information from social media; a far lower proportion consult formal medicine. Overload is a problem as well, especially in the wake of the pandemic: for 53% the volume of information available is so overwhelming that they don’t know what to focus on.

Respondents are seeking more control over their physical as well as mental health.

Awareness of the connection between wellness and disease has been growing, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over half of those surveyed (52%) have taken two or more measures in the past three months to improve their personal health, mainly by engaging in more physical exercise and changing eating habits, cited by 34% and 29%, respectively. Around one-quarter (24%) have also sought to improve their mental health, a need underscored by the 34% who say the COVID-19 crisis has caused them greater stress, anxiety or depression.

Income levels do not dictate health and wellness optimism.

The Health of Asia Barometer developed for this report reveals a striking contrast between the less and more developed markets in the region. Citizens of the former are considerably more positive than those of the latter about the state of their personal health and its near-term outlook, as well as about their ability to manage their health and wellness. The exceptions to this revolve around financial constraints and access to facilities.

Low affordability limits people’s scope of action to live more healthily.

Financial considerations constrain 56% of survey respondents from taking action to improve their health and wellness. The figures are higher in less developed markets such as Thailand and Vietnam. Half of the respondents also cite limited access to exercise or other facilities as an impediment.

Digital health technologies are popular but need to work harder for citizens

Survey respondents use a wide variety of personal health tools, including smart watches, smart thermometers and blood pressure monitors. Experts interviewed for this report say the value of such technologies can be enhanced if they can connect to centralised data repositories, such as patient health records, a reality today only in the region’s developed markets.

Public-private action to improve healthcare

To fulfil the potential of digital healthcare, the report recommends greater public-private collaboration, suggesting that governments partner with private companies to deliver digitally-innovative ways to promote and manage health and wellness among citizens.

The report also highlights the opportunity for governments to improve public health information through digital channels. Survey respondents overwhelmingly agreed that the most trustworthy sources are national government and public health authorities. Governments can seize the opportunity by becoming the most reliable source of quality health information for citizens.

The report also recommends that governments look to promote connected health devices, but that these need to be underpinned by strict data governance. Data security will enable health data to be safely centralised, empowering governments to design better policies and build more targeted healthcare infrastructure.

Mr Nic Nicandrou, chief executive of Prudential Corporation Asia, said, “This ground-breaking research demonstrates that while Asia has already begun to embrace digital health technologies, the region is still some way from realising the full potential technology has to offer. The private and public sectors need to come together to make these opportunities a reality, and in doing so, improve health and wellness outcomes for individuals.”

Mr Charles Ross, editorial director from the EIU, said, “Our research shows that to make health and wellbeing more accessible and affordable, the public and private sectors need to come together to seize the initiative. A key way to do this is by breaking down ‘data silos’ between disparate healthcare services and creating secure connections between health apps, devices and centralised digital patient records.”

The respondents hail from Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Laos, mainland China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. They range in age from 21 to 55, with 49% aged between 25 and 34, and 31% between 35 and 44. The respondents have different income levels and are split roughly evenly between males and females.

The full report can be accessed at pulseofasia.economist.com


 

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