Telehealth services and its operators, which allow patients to consult with medical staff and professionals virtually, are riding a huge surge in demand within the ASEAN nations as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to push the healthcare sector online.

In countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore, telehealth services has seen exponential growth over the past few months as fears and concerns regarding physical visits to clinics and hospitals grow. Many tend to believe that visiting medical centres, where many patients and healthcare workers may be exposed to Covid-19, could increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus. Such services hold promise for taking some of the load carried by ASEAN’s medical institutions grappling with virus cases.

“When the Covid-19 hit, we witnessed a significant demand,” Thailand-based digital healthcare startup Doctor Raksa Chief Executive and Founder Jaren Siew said in an interview with Nikkei Asia. The service allows for patients to connect with pharmacies and doctors digitally through a mobile application and has seen immense business growth and profitability amidst the pandemic.

“Cost efficiency and accessibility of doctors has always been an issue for health systems. Telehealth addresses both of these pain points. It removes geographical boundaries and allows patients to be in touch with doctors anytime, anywhere,” Siew said.

Siew expects that the pandemic will continue to transform the care delivery industry and open up new opportunities for virtual services in the near term. His own startup is currently looking for partners to expand overseas into new markets.

Telemedicine is likely to continue this trend of growth into the future, especially because of Southeast Asia’s relatively lower ratio of doctors to the general population. Internet giant Google, Singapore state investor Temasek and U.S. consultancy Bain and Company noted in a November report citing World Health Organisation data that reveals Indonesia and Thailand having a ratio of just 0.4 doctors per 1,000 people. Some ASEAN peers are higher, with Vietnam at 0.8, the Philippines at 1.2, Malaysia at 1.6 and Singapore at 2.3. China’s ratio stands at 2.2 while that for the US is 2.7.

Lockdowns and movement restrictions in the 10-member ASEAN imposed at various times this year have also left patients with little choice but to consult with medical experts remotely for regular checkups. As new waves of Covid-19 have begun appearing, including a brand new strain in the UK, it is unlikely that the telehealth industry will cease its growth anytime soon.


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