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Digitalization is the ‘only’ way to advance the health sector in the Philippines

A digital health specialist said that technological advancements in healthcare should include digitalization to address Philippines’ shortage in healthcare professionals. 

The number of nurses active in service are below the total number of registered nurses in the country, said Joyce Socao, managing director and CEO of Time Medical Philippines, during the first India-Philippines Tech Summit (IPTS) held last Tuesday, March 5.

Of the 951,105 registered nurses in the Philippines, Socao estimated only 500,000 are actively working in hospitals, health centers, and clinics.

“A total of about 188,000 health workers and less than 2,000 hospitals serving a population of 180.5 million,” Socao said.

“And so because of that, we realized that we need to automate. We need to digitalize many of the processes because it’s no longer becoming safe for many of us.”

Socao believes that automation can help shorten long hospital processes and reach remote places in the country.

Additionally, the managing director believes in the advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) to help “unburden” the healthworkers who are already shouldering multiple tasks in clinics and hospitals.

AI in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), primary healthcare, preventive and advanced diagnostics, Socao said, will augment early detection, leading them to serve “more” patients.

There have been advancements in the application of AI in MRI, but it is still in its early stages. So far, studies have shown that it helps MRI technologists to have faster diagnosis rates, earlier cancer detection and intervention for patients.

However, Ram Nivas, associate partner of EY Parthenon in India, that applying AI in healthcare is a “big leap.” 

Nivas named three concerns, namely, data privacy, data bias, and having a “human first, safety first,” approach. 

“So, it’s important that we don’t just adopt the AI model as it is, but start using it as more like a co-pilot and ensure that some of these decisions are taken into consideration more as a support thing rather than an ultimate decision-making system,” He said.

Moreover, Sacao said digitalization of non-clinical processes is where Philippines and India could collaborate on, more than just pharmaceutical drugs and devices. 

The IPTS was a one-day event organized by the Department of Information and Communication Technology, Philippines Chamber of Commerce and Industry, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. 

The event gathered agritech, healthtech and fintech companies to network and listen to panel discussions led by several experts from the aforementioned fields.