With a global predicted value of USD $20 million by 2025, digital data is pumping growth through the heart of the healthcare market. In Malaysia, leading EMR solutions providers are expected to expand by over 100% within the next two years.
But for Jasmine Lau, CEO of Nilai Medical Centre, there is a greater value to hospital’s digitalisation journey: the intangible ROI of quality patient care.
She shares with Hospital Insights Asia the real value of hospital experience, how to protect your patients and their data, and why connectivity is a critical part of Malaysia’s healthcare future.
For patients, not for profit
Malaysia’s RM80 billion healthcare industry holds healthy commercial opportunities. But for Lau, the impetus behind Nilai Medical’s EMR journey was not for profit.
“The main reasons we wanted to have electronic medical records are…the efficiency, the workload, and (reducing the) number of medication errors” she confirms. “We don’t make profit out of it, but it does give you a sense of a return of investment, like providing value-added services to the patient”.
As the pandemic pushes demand for efficient patient care, the reduction in patient waiting time is one of the greatest benefits Lau has seen since implementing EMR throughout Nilai Medical.
“(Patients) used to wait for a long while… for the records”, she explains. Now, the automatic flow improves the patient journey by significantly reducing waiting time. Patients who used to spend half a day in hospital now wait for less than an hour.
“It’s really good news for the nurses, doctors, as well as pharmacies”, says Lau proudly. “And of course, patients benefit”.
Aligning man and machine
Yet, for a sector notoriously “slow to embrace technology”, the road to digitalisation hasn’t always run smooth. Last year, Dr. Prathaban Raju – a co-Chair of Digital Health Malaysia’s special interest group, and joint founder of Health-tech platform Door2Door Doctor – cited better “training for healthcare providers, who may not be comfortable with technology” as a key factor that needed to change if Malaysia’s healthcare sector is to survive and thrive in the digital future. Lau agrees.
“Some of the doctors, nurses, and staff have been here for almost 10 to 15 years, and you want them to switch from handwritten to electronic”, she shrugs. “Our biggest challenge is to get buy-in”. Nilai Medical ensured that there was support for medical staff from the very start of the digitalisation journey. As productivity increased, their reticence disappeared.
“Eventually, when I talked to the doctors, I noticed they started to like…the system”, she confirms. “It’s very useful and beneficial to them as well”.
Protecting patients: protecting their data
For Malaysia, cybersecurity concerns have grown alongside digitalisation. In 2016, 20,000 Malaysian patient data records, and 1.2 million scans from three different systems, were made accessible following a leak from a private organisation.
Since then, EMR evolution means that it is not just patients’ physical, but also their digital wellbeing that is at stake.
“We were quite worried in the beginning”, admits Lau. “How do I preserve the patient’s confidentiality? How do I ensure that patients data isn’t leaked out, how do I ensure people don’t just hack on my system?”.
The solution to these concerns lay in a “strong IT system to ensure data security” and regular free training, not just for healthcare professionals, but across the board.
“We audit the system regularly. We also develop a lot of policy and procedures”, explains Lau. “(and) we actually restrict access for personnel… which means that doctors only can access their own patient information”.
Interoperability: small steps towards great ambitions
If EMR sophistication is Nilai Medical’s latest landmark on the digitalisation journey, interoperability – the seamless exchange of electronic health records across different hospitals – seems like a natural next step. A standardised system and fast exchange of data can enable greater accessibility for healthcare professionals, and more efficient care for patients, especially those transferred across institutions.
Yet while data-sharing across hospitals is “doable”, Lau notes that “it has not actualized for Malaysia… yet”.
For the careful CEO in a critical climate, security of patients’ data, the stabilisation of systems and the cost of integration are just some potential hurdles on a hospital’s interoperability journey.
“It doesn’t stop us”, she is quick to stress. “But it’s giving us more time to think about and consider about whether this is the right timing to go for digitization strategies at this moment”.
Taking it slow in an era of rapid digitalisation means Lau has a clear idea of what resources – and partnerships – are needed to achieve her ultimate interoperability goals.
“What I hope to see is actually another Public Private Partnership, which is for government patient information to transfer to the private sector”, she reveals. “Instead of reordering all tests from government hospitals, patient information like lab tests can just be transferred or shared”.
Digital goals giving new strength to the industry
These clear visions give Lau confidence in navigating an era of uncertainty. For Nilai Medical, and for Malaysia’s healthcare as a whole, digitalisation of data is not just an asset, it is an inevitability.
“Moving forward, every private hospital in Malaysia, whether you’re big or small, we are going for full EMR”, she says confidently.
The healthcare sector is already among the fastest growing industries in the country. Now whether spurred on by patients, profits, or practitioners themselves, its progress has new power.