Ongoing socio-economic shifts and new applications for health data are influencing patient expectations and care needs across Asia.
Asia’s rising middle class and its enhanced purchasing power is a strategic theme for governments and business leaders worldwide. Companies in sectors ranging from retail and telecommunications to real estate and tourism are reconfiguring their strategies around projections for future Asian consumption, but it is healthcare where the relationship between aspiration and human need is perhaps most complex.
Across Asia, the changing healthcare map is being driven by big investments, socio-economic growth and shifting demand for treatments and medicines. Asia has become the priority region for healthcare companies worldwide and, although different countries are experiencing varying phases of transition of their health systems, intertwined issues are evident.
Beyond preventing and treating diseases and ailments for vast populations in rapidly urbanizing environments, uncharted health challenges are emerging. Dietary and lifestyle shifts are fuelling an acceleration in conditions like obesity and diabetes for which health insurance companies provide little or no coverage. The balance between private and public healthcare funding is still being worked out, as are regulatory issues surrounding drug approvals and availability. On a macro level, the recent Middle East Respiratory Sydrome (MERS) outbreak radiating from Korea confirmed that a coordinated regional response to epidemics is patchy at best.
Dotting this landscape are increasingly affluent urban patients who are more discriminating, more aware about health and wellness issues and have a broader range of products and services from which to choose. But as the cost of healthcare provision rises and the channels of access diversify, reconciling healthcare standards and affordability with patient expectations is proving a tough equation.
Delivering tailored treatments
In this fast-changing region, big data is contributing to the development of new healthcare solutions. Qualitative and quantitative research, data analytics and insights are being applied to better understand the position of patients across Asian markets. Sophisticated predictive modeling is helping to crunch medical data gathered during diagnosis and provide tailored or even personalized treatments.
This should not be a surprise, as the medical industry collects a huge amount of realtime data on a daily basis. Even a routine visit to a General Practitioner involves answering several health questions and the taking of at least your blood pressure and temperature. The systematized use of healthcare analysis reaches beyond this basic data, however.
“There has been a shift from a productcentric to a patient-centric model in terms of value propositions, branding and services,” says Anthony Morton-Small, Senior Principal at IMS Health in Singapore. “Healthcare companies are using a mix of volume analysis and socio-economic data and patient and stakeholder attitudinal data to better manage the pricing and volume of products and services, and to understand the willingness and ability of patients to pay for the necessary treatments and care.”
Traditionally, healthcare companies based their models around the so-called “4 Ps” of product, price, place and promotion, but over the last five years the focus has broadened to the “4 As” of awareness, accessibility, affordability and adaptability. Today, affordability is widely viewed as critical, and multinational pharmaceutical, biotech and consumer health companies in Asia must balance pricing against fierce, broad-based competition from local rivals.
“The competition in Asian healthcare markets is not just based on the pricing of products,” says Anthony Morton-Small. “Local corporate brands are well established and well-known, and local portfolio relevance is also important. Access to markets, contracts and tenders in public healthcare and pricing points in private markets are crucial, and local players have strong distribution and supply channels to market.”
E-commerce, medical tourism and demographic change
Other localized issues must be factored into strategy models in different Asian markets. Among the factors to contemplate is the diversification of retailing channels, and the increasing influence of e-commerce and the remote delivery of consumer health. Across the region, “telehealth” clinics and apps are connecting patients with much-needed healthcare provision, while online trading sites, like Lazada in South East Asia, facilitate a greater volume of intra-regional medical product sales.
Another relatively new market dynamic is medical tourism, which is attracting medical device companies eager to tap into expanding Asian markets. The value of global medical tourism is predicted to grow from USD 10.5 billion in 2012 to USD 32.5 billion in 2019, according to a 2015 report by Transparency Market Research. Asia is considered to be pivotal to this global growth. Countries such as Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan are channeling resources to treat patients from other Asian countries where the higher cost and/or lower availability of ondemand care is encouraging them to travel for treatment.
Supply chain integrity is another strategic issue for companies to assess. “In some markets in Asia, there are cultural aspects related to the integrity of the value chain to be considered,” says Anthony Morton-Small. “Guaranteeing the availability and authenticity of medicines is difficult where poor quality controls exist.” Countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have large “grey markets” for illegally imported medicines.
Beyond managing the availability of holistic healthcare, a looming demographic burden hangs over economic planners in some Asian countries: the shifting imperatives of an aging society. “This becomes a big issue as spending will need to shift towards treatment areas such as oncology and central nervous system or CNS, and patients’ attitudes regarding their own long-term personal care needs will change,” says Anthony Morton-Small.
The opportunities ahead are numerous in Asia’s competitive healthcare markets. Utilizing structured data and intelligence can help create innovative product, pricing and inventory management strategies across the value chain, from pharmaceutical manufacturers to hospitals and pharmacies. In this way, stakeholders hope to balance financial viability and expanded access of the treatments that patients – both national and intra-regional – will increasingly demand.
Health expenditure as a percentage of GDP
Source: The World Bank