In the final part of Malay Mail’s three-part interview with Philips Healthcare, Singapore-based Asean Pacific senior vice president and general manager Diederik Zeven talks about how the 125-year old company sees Asean as the laboratory for the global healthcare solutions and its investments in the region.
The region’s diverse mix of nations represent the two most-pressing issues that may debilitate existing healthcare systems if not addressed quickly — large aging populations and weak maternal care support.
Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei will be seeing large swathes of its residents aged over 65 by 2030, while younger, more populous countries like Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam face high maternal mortality rates.
Building on its home healthcare acquisitions and partnerships to bolster support for aging populations in the US and Netherlands, Philips Healthcare is now making strides towards the Asean region.
In January, Philips and EDBI, a corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board, agreed to jointly invest in high-potential digital health companies from around the world seeking to break into the Asian market via Singapore, replicating a similar model it has with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
“We are focusing on companies that we can invest together in — companies that are active in population health management and digital health. We are currently scanning the market, so to say,” Zeven said.
In May, Philips announced that its new Asean Pacific headquarters will act as a co-creation environment with healthcare innovators in the region, building on existing partnerships made in the last few years,.
Monitoring heart failure patients
Its Toa Payoh campus in Singapore boasts a continuous care monitoring room, where healthcare professionals remotely monitor the health of home-based patients with cloud-based equipment.
“We need to team up with other private sector companies like insurance companies, but also with governments, to jointly find long-term sustainable business, technology and social models that would allow care to take place at home.
“So we collaborated with insurance providers to monitor multiple chronic disease patients in their homes. Bottomline, in layman terms, trying to keep them out of emergency rooms,” Zeven illustrated.
This comes about from watching trends, tweaking patient medications or calling them in early to prevent an escalation like a heart attack.
Philips has taken this partnership model with governments to Sumatra and several Australian states, as well as with the Eastern Health Alliance and Changi General Hospital in Singapore.
“In the latter, we have been monitoring close to 160 heart disease patients on a day-to-day basis for over a year now. In the morning, patients take their weight, temperature and blood pressure and they fill in a self-evident relatively easy questionnaire on how they feel.
“Those datasets are fed into a system of algorithms that Philips developed, through which nurses can make an assessment about the actual status of the patient.
“The system gives prioritisation to those nurses to start calling patients and setting up video-conference (which can be done on mobile tablets) to follow up on whether they have been sticking to their medication regime,” Zeven said.
Prior to the pilot — Singapore’s first telehealth programme for heart failure patients — 40% of Changi General’s heart failure patients were readmitted within 12 months.
A year later, 51 of the then 120 participants showed an average 84% compliance to monitoring their own vital signs — blood pressure, pulse rate and weight — at home, reducing the need for re-admittance.
Findings from pilots like these could help lift the pressure of such patients on resource-strapped countries like Myanmar, which only have 14 cardiologists for a 54-million population.
(This number was previously incorrectly ascribed to Malaysia in the second part of the interview published June 23.)
Co-creating new solutions
Philip’s co-creation centre also boasts a 1,028 square metre “Health Continuum Space” which simulates multiple health-medical scenarios at the same time, enabling prototyping of new solutions.
On top of that, its “Learning Centre” is fully equipped with MRI and X-ray machines, laboratories and classrooms, where healthcare practitioners can have first-hand experience handling and operating equipment.
“What makes Asia Pacific truly interesting is that it is the world in a nutshell. When we encounter challenges in healthcare systems in Australia due to budgetary pressures — those are challenges that we encounter across the world.
“At the same time, if you look at countries like Myanmar and Indonesia — though they may differ on key performance indicators (KPI) such as income per capita, employment rates, participation of women in the workforce — one key KPI is maternal mortality.
“It shows you where a country is in how well they take care of their mothers-to-be, and so our mobile obstetrics monitoring (MOM) investment in Indonesia is very relevant towards making available solutions that can help drive down
“It is a very diverse set of investments as both maternal mortality and aging populations are both in play in the Asia Pacific region,” Zeven noted.
In January, Philips announced the full-scale commercial implementation of a new telehealth service in the Sijunjung Regency in West Sumatra to reduce maternal mortality, in collaboration with Indonesia’s largest telco PT Telkom.
Reducing maternal mortality
The scalable smartphone-based MOM digital health service is designed to help mothers-to-be who are at high risk of pregnancy-related complications. The first of MOM’s two apps allows midwives to collect weight, blood pressure and temperature data and sync it to the MOM web portal, while the second lets doctors track this data and review an expectant mother’s progress.
Indonesia, with 255 million people living on over 900 islands, still struggles with one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world partly due to the lack of access to healthcare services, and where primary care clinics are ill-equipped to detect risky pregnancies early.
But a one-year pilot in collaboration with Bunda Medical Centre in Padang last year has increased early detection of at-risk pregnancies three-fold, providing medical monitoring and treatment for a safe delivery. Of the 650 pregnancies, not a single woman died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
MOM not just enables midwives in remote locations to share mobile ultrasound images with obstetricians and gynecologists in larger hospitals to get women the care they need, but also provides training and education to healthcare workers as part of the service.
Zeven, who started as a trainee in 1994 in Philips Medical Systems’ office in Hong Kong selling medical equipment, is now overseeing its role as a digital healthcare player in the region — mirroring Philips own pivot to the sector.
“Comparing then and now, we have a much better understanding how large the challenge actually is — what we need to do to develop sustainable health systems at a primary level (like in Indonesia), secondary level (making sure regional hospitals and well-equipped and well-staffed) and at the tertiary level or apex of healthcare systems.
“I see a much broader interest in that perspective and our generation has that true opportunity to make the world a
He remarked, “I’m optimistic because of the momentum that I see, the willingness to work together and execute — particularly in this region which is going to be one of the future continued growth regions in
“There are numerous opportunities for us to collaborate here, which in the end will become examples for the world.”