The advent of wearables such as fitness trackers allowed people to monitor their physical activities and become more conscious about their lifestyle. It also signaled the emergence of mobile health or digital health (mHealth) or the use of applications accessible through mobile wireless technology for healthcare.
mHealth has evolved into just heart rate monitoring or even cycle tracker into enabling patients to book doctor appointments, online consultations, and have personalized health services through artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
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According to Andrew Wong, chief health officer, Prudential Corp. Asia, Asia has a rising and underinsured middle-class. Lifestyle diseases due to a sedentary lifestyle and food choices may contribute to an increase in deaths. Citing the World Health Organization and the United Nations, he said that one-third of Filipinos may die of non-communicable diseases (NCD) caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.
Prudential Corp. is represented as Pru Life UK in the Philippines.
mHealth is a tool for people to have access to health information and access to the best medical solutions available. It is also a tool to help health professionals reach more patients through apps and other channels.
However, according to an independent study authored by Philippine law firm Quisumbing Torres and commissioned by British life insurer Pru Life UK, the use of mHealth in the country is restricted by regulatory limitations and as a consequence prevents people from accessing the most relevant information, facilities, and features.
The study, as presented by lawyer Charles Velasco, revealed that the leading cause of death in the Philippines has shifted from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases.
“The average patient to doctor ratio stands at 1:1000, which is far from ideal,” said Velasco. “Also, the sad reality is that 34% cannot afford the cost of medical checkups.”
The study cites the World Health Organization’s list of mHealth benefits which include increasing global health security through crowdsourcing (one way is through data from apps), increasing patient, family, and community engagement by making people-centered health-related services, and reducing premature mortality from NCD by increasing awareness on NCDs risk factors.
“Technology used in mHealth allows the analysis of a large amount of data in a relatively shorter time. Artificial intelligence (in conjunction with big data analysis, robotics, and internet-of-things) is also used to predict possible disease outbreaks. A US-based company stated that it can predict outbreaks with an 81% accuracy,” the study states.
Another trend in mHealth is the integration of big data analytics, or the act of gathering and storing large amounts of information for eventual analysis, in the healthcare industry, which is expected to grow up to $34.27 billion by 2022. It is projected that the use of big data in healthcare will grow faster than in other sectors like manufacturing, financial services or media, at an annual growth rate of 36% through 2025, the Pru Life UK white paper says.
Velasco explained the restrictions the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) has put in place in terms of doing business in the countries. Any foreign website that caters to a Filipino buyer is already considered “doing business in the Philippines.” In the same breath, an mHealth app with offshore headquarters but is being used in the country is also deemed to be doing business here, which means it should be under the regulations of any Philippine entity in charge of foreign companies.
“Current laws and regulations may not provide full protection to investors,” Velasco said.
Wong said Prudential through its partnership with Babylon, a UK-based healthcare technology and services company, wants to leverage AI to be able to provide people access to various digital health services making healthcare affordable and accessible across Asia.
Prudential aims to democratize healthcare to ensure access to AI-powered healthcare advice to Filipinos at no cost.
mHealth is seen to help raise awareness of potential health risks and promote preventive care by empowering communities and individuals to manage their own health.
“The use of mHealth applications can help advance the mandate of the DOH under the UHCA to focus on health promotion and preventive care,” the study states.
Prudential hopes to encourage the government and regulators that giving people access to mHealth would eventually lead to prevention and disease management as patients and families will be able to make informed medical decisions from the wealth of information they get from their own data and other sources.