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By Andrew Wong
Chief Health Officer, Prudential Corporation Asia

As consumers increasingly turn to digital health tools and apps to manage their health and wellbeing, a pre-existing problem has become even more prominent - the lack of centralised health data.

Today, an individual’s health data might not only be spread across multiple healthcare providers - from GP surgeries to therapy centres and hospitals - but also across multiple digital apps and services that could be run by an array of private companies.

These siloed pockets of data mean there are often delays in sharing critical patient records from one healthcare provider to another. And what’s worse - the absence of collaboration between the public and private spheres means that the health data held by private companies could be completely inaccessible to medical practitioners.

The result? For health services, this lack of centralised health information is likely to mean increased administrative complexity and costs, leading to less financially sustainable healthcare systems. But it’s individuals across Asia who are suffering the most - they are being treated by doctors and specialists who often do not have access to the full picture when treating them, leading to variable clinical quality.

At Prudential, we have long recognised that improving health and wellness is not a task that can be solved by any one company or government. Instead, this requires a unified approach. That’s why we are collaborating with partners not only to develop next-generation health and wealth solutions, and new channels in which to deliver them, but also to raise awareness of and to help solve issues such as siloed health data.

In fact, our recently commissioned report from the Economist Intelligence Unit entitled Pulse of Asia: Health of Asia Barometer, recommended increased public-private co-operation as a key means to realising the full potential of digital health.

Enter centralised health records

The Singaporean government recognised the problem of decentralised health data back in 2011 when it partnered with private company iHiS to set up the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR). NEHR is a secure system that seamlessly shares patient health records across different healthcare providers, giving doctors and specialists a holistic view of a patient’s healthcare history, and giving citizens access to higher quality and more personalised care.

In 2016 the Singaporean government took this one step further by moving its health services to a secure nation-wide private cloud. This infrastructure, dubbed H-Cloud, supports over 50,000 healthcare staff at public hospitals, specialty centres, polyclinics, and nursing homes, to access patient records.

The centralisation and ease of shareability of medical records has resulted in faster and more accurate diagnoses for individuals.

What’s more, it is predicted that centralising healthcare data along with the move to the cloud, will help to reduce operational healthcare costs in Singapore by an average of 55% by 2025. A figure sure to capture the attention of the many governments whose healthcare systems are under intense pressure due to the ongoing pandemic.

If we turn to the example of our healthcare app Pulse - by sharing health data securely within the Pulse ecosystem with our innovative tech partners, we are able to offer more highly personalised offerings to consumers, allowing us to support better health outcomes. If this model was replicated on a national level, the benefits would increase exponentially.

In our view, the wider Asian market is primed and ready for a digital revolution. This centralised model could work across Asia, and the time is right for change to happen now.

Putting security front and centre

It goes without saying that centralising health data is not without its risks. To ensure sensitive and confidential data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, data repositories need to be built on solid foundations of strict data governance that balance the benefits with the legitimate privacy concerns of consumers.

In the Singapore example, the cloud infrastructure has been designed to detect and defend against cybersecurity threats using advanced analytic tools with deep learning capabilities.

This is backed up by our Pulse of Asia report, which pinpointed strict data governance of healthcare data, led by governments, as the only way to maintain consumer confidence and to build trust.

The future of centralised health

But while Singapore is a shining example of the move towards centralised health data, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is the potential for digital health ecosystems to also connect data from personal health devices, apps and services to patient health records, further benefiting both individuals and government-run health services.

Our belief is that this additional data would result in hyper-personalised health care that takes the individual’s full health record - from their eating habits and fitness regime to past conditions and treatments - into account.

Healthcare is an industry that is still in its infancy when it comes to digital innovation and adoption, but change is happening - and at pace.

Our report with the Economist Intelligence Unit, shows that individuals across the region are increasingly turning to digital tools and services to improve their health and wellness, a trend that we’ve seen in the strong take-up with our Pulse app and the services it offers. According to this research, four out of five people already use some form of personal health technology and almost three quarters (71%) say they will rely on digital health even more heavily in the future.

Technology is a bright spot when it comes to health and wellness in the region, but for the full spectrum for communities in Asia to enjoy the full benefits of digital technologies, the centralisation of health data is key.

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