How does it feel to see thousands of hopeful citizens queuing up for hours for free consultation and medicines in health missions? How does it feel to see multiple patients sharing a single, small hospital room? How does it feel when you hear people asking for government help during an epidemic?
There is a significant pressure on government and the healthcare sector to revolutionize the state of Philippine healthcare. Demand is primarily driven by a growing and ageing population. With an expanding middle class and rising incomes, people are starting to spend more on healthcare. In 2017, the Department of Health (DoH), including Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), received P167.9 billion in fund allocation, up 12.3 percent than in 2016. Yet, access to quality and affordable healthcare, along with a lack of healthcare personnel and outdated technology, remains a daily challenge to most of our citizens.
The problem of inequity still exists as healthcare remains out of reach for many people in the rural and remote areas. The absence of an integrated health network has had a negative impact on economic and geographic access, as well as on quality and efficiency of health services. To address this, the current administration wants to strengthen health programs and movements such as “doctors to the barrios,” as well as to continue developing and building treatment facilities to serve people in remote areas. Currently, the Philippines needs at least 40,000-45,000 additional hospital beds, health facilities and physicians to provide quality medical services to its population of more than 100 million Filipinos.
DoH data shows that the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has the worst bed-population ratio of one bed for every 4,606 people, way below the agency’s target of one bed for every 800 people. Even the World Health Organization’s ideal ratio is one bed for every 200 people. Statistics show that Metro Manila has the best bed-to-population ratio of one-per-591, far better than the national average of one-per-1,142.
The Philippines also has a shortage in rural health units (RHU) and health centers. The ideal target is one RHU per 20,000 people, but our country only has 2,600 RHUs and health centers. Our shortfall in RHUs is easily half of the ideal target.
Insufficient healthcare translates to increasing costs, and also impacts economic productivity. Illnesses, medical complications and even the most common non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases (heart attack and stroke), cancer, chronic respiratory diseases (e.g. chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma), cannot be readily addressed.
To overcome distance and geographic barriers, one solution is the use of telemedicine, or the use of telecommunications and information technology to serve and provide clinical healthcare from a distance. Health professionals and patients are able to communicate through video, and medical and health information can be emailed from one site to another.
On the other side of the world, technological advances are happening at exponential levels, and basic telemedicine tools are affordable and easily available. Expectations for more convenient care and the unavailability of overburdened medical professionals have led to the rise of telemedicine companies. One can have live health check-ups and consultation through social media, such as Facebook, or through apps such as Skype. Benefits include less waiting time, less cost and time in traveling to nearby health centers, and immediate access to prescription for certain conditions.
Medical applications are useful tools for mobile clinical communication, patient education, and remote monitoring of patients. Some applications also provide drug references and medical calculators to help patients in researching for doctor’s prescription and to assess their own health condition. Weight loss and maintenance applications that encourage a healthier lifestyle are also starting to make their mark. Health movements are already widespread on social media.
Moreover, artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging in First World countries. Robots and state-of-the-art AIs process information much faster than humans can, thus increasing efficiency. It can even solve problems in misdiagnosis and medical errors to a specific extent. AI is already being implemented in certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, where high-tech sensors can detect symptoms at early stages and predict health incidents for prevention.
Scientists and medical practitioners are constantly finding ways with the aid of technology to mend previously incurable diseases, such as AIDS, lupus, polio, and cancer.
In remote areas, sample medicines and health accessories are now being delivered using drones.
It has become imperative for the Philippines to catch up. We have already developed an eHealth Strategic Framework Plan for 2014 to 2020 that will support the delivery of health services and manage health systems more efficiently. Meanwhile, the Philippines Hospitals Market Outlook 2021 reports on local trends and developments, such as telemedicine. It all comes down to these questions, though: “Is the patient willing to accept this change?” and “Do the benefits outweigh the costs?”
Being the 10th fastest-growing economy in the world (according to Forbes), the Philippines should keep itself on the right track and not overlook healthcare. That must be a top priority because there is no economy without people, and people are at their best when given proper healthcare.
This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.