Amidst this rising patient demand, hospitals in the region are facing manpower shortages and other operational challenges. With fewer healthcare professionals available to serve this growing number of patients, this trickles down to an increase in patient waiting time to receive proper diagnosis and treatment, hence exacerbating disease outcomes, increasing costs to patients, and resulting in more stress on the overall health system. While new initiatives are in place to address healthcare staff satisfaction and retention, healthcare technology can be a silver bullet in relieving this burden and addressing these challenges in the long term.
by Dr Mark Burby
Although preventable, cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death in Asia- Pacific (APAC).1 According to OECD and World Health Organization, CVD accounted for over 9.85 million deaths in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific a year.1 This statistic is expected to be on an upward trajectory as incidence rates of non-communicable diseases such as CVD increase with age, and with Asia’s ageing population, this will continue to be a growing burden to national health systems in APAC.
Amidst this rising patient demand, hospitals in the region are facing manpower shortages and other operational challenges. The World Health Organization predicts that the healthcare workforce in Southeast Asia will be short by 4.7 million people by 2030,2 and within Singapore, 24,000 more nurses and healthcare staff will be needed by then.3 With fewer healthcare professionals available to serve this growing number of patients, this trickles down to an increase in patient waiting time to receive proper diagnosis and treatment, hence exacerbating disease outcomes, increasing costs to patients, and resulting in more stress on the overall health system.
These challenges cannot be ignored and are shaping our health policies. While new initiatives are in place to address healthcare staff satisfaction and retention, healthcare technology can be a silver bullet in relieving this burden and addressing these challenges in the long term.
Unlocking the Full Potential of AI to Improve Diagnosis, Workflow Efficiency and Cost
What’s promising is that Philips’ global Future Health Index 2023 report shows that healthcare leaders are tackling staff shortages with the support of more artificial intelligence (AI) investments, with 83% predicting it will become a top investment in the next three years, up from 74% in 2021.4 Globally, AI for critical decision support was the area that saw the biggest increase in planned investments, increasing to 39% in 2023, up from 24% in 2021.4 This was a top choice among cardiology (50%) and radiology (48%) leaders.4
At the latest major international conference on radiology, the European Congress of Radiology, AI was also highlighted as a possible key to tackling the major challenges facing healthcare systems today, such as clinical complexity, workforce shortages, and staff burnout. Its potential is huge—not only to consolidate and analyse data but also to automate certain processes, which will help to alleviate the pressure on staff, better manage patient processing, and ultimately help to improve patient care pathways and experiences.
When it comes to supporting healthcare workers in the diagnosis and monitoring of complex medical conditions such as CVD, for example, AI-enabled technology can enable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to be carried out three times faster than usual, which helps to reduce the total exam time, department productivity, and the cost per exam, ultimately benefiting patients.
AI Will Not Take Over Jobs, It Will Enhance Them
A question we often hear is, “Will AI take over the jobs of healthcare workers?” The answer is no, or at least not for quite some time! Instead, it will enhance their jobs as AI can take over manual tasks and automate certain steps to supplement the healthcare professional’s decision-making. All of these can help to save time and ultimately reduce the pressure on healthcare professionals, freeing them up from certain tasks and giving them time back to care for patients. By supporting healthcare workers, AI has the potential to improve care delivery, patient experiences, and overall health outcomes.
One example of this is automating jobs that would otherwise have to be done manually, which can be time consuming. For example, AI in solutions such as ultrasound systems can automate manual and repetitive labour in ultrasound measurements. Imagine if a typically 30-minute process now takes 10 minutes. The elimination of 20 minutes means patients, including those with CVD, can be diagnosed at a faster rate, cutting down the overall waiting time and increasing the number of patients being diagnosed daily. By speeding up the process, patients can be diagnosed faster, cutting down the overall waiting time to receive treatment.
AI also supports preventive and virtual care by enabling caregivers to monitor and engage patients remotely. Not only can this give more people access to care, especially those in remote areas, but it also avoids related travel and CO2 emissions. What’s positive to see is that, according to the Philips 2022 Future Health Index, one in four APAC healthcare leaders are identifying implementing sustainability practises such as these as a top priority today.5 This is very encouraging, as we at Philips are conscious of our responsibility towards society and are committed to working with and supporting partners to minimise our impact on the planet.
As we look to implement more AI into CVD care and broaden the use of it in our healthcare system, what’s key to remember is that AI is only as strong as the human experience it supports. Partnering with healthcare institutions in the digital transformation space is essential to ensuring that AI and other digital technologies are used correctly in order to have a positive impact on CVD patients and healthcare professionals who are leveraging them. Only then will we see improved workflows, better care of patients, and a reduction of the CVD burden on health systems in the long term. [APBN]
About the Author
Dr Mark Burby, Vice President, Health Systems and Solutions, Philips APAC
A seasoned health technology professional and leader, he has over 20 years of experience in global and Asia Pacific roles spanning hardware, software, services, security, cloud and solutions sales across the health technology advisory spectrum.