Shaping tomorrow’s healthcare today

Collaboration between policymakers, private sector players and academia pivotal to fully maximise potential opportunities in telemedicine and elevate the standard of the Malaysian healthcare industry.

A portable device that is able to detect heart rhythms and transmit electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings wirelessly to your smartphone could one day save your life from a potential heart attack, or eliminate unnecessary hospital appointments.

The Mini Heartcatcher, the brainchild of two final-year undergraduates from Universiti Teknologi Mara, beat participating teams from Malaysia and Indonesia to win first place in the Open category of the Malaysia Telemedicine Innovation Challenge 2016.

The device is just one example of the potential innovative applications in the field of telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications – that were showcased at the 2nd Telemedicine Conference on Aug 16 to Aug 18 at the Swan Convention Centre, Sunway Medical Centre.

Organised by Monash University Malaysia, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), and CREST (Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology), the Telemedicine Conference brought together policymakers, industry players, academia and medical providers to discuss research and innovation in the field of telemedicine.

Themed, ‘Shaping Tomorrow's Healthcare, Today’, the 3-day conference also saw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Microsoft Malaysia and CREST for a long-term engagement to drive connected healthcare innovation.

The partnership will result in the creation of the CREST-Microsoft Health Innovation Hub, a digital health hub that will provide end-to-end services for health-related developers, start-ups and researchers keen on innovating and co-selling their solutions.

Focusing on five core virtual health scenarios – tele-health, smart access, remote patient monitoring, drug adherence and corporate wellness – the hub is set to be fully operational by mid-September.

According to Dr Wong Chee Piau, chairman of the organising committee and Associate Professor at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, the conference saw a 30% increase in participation this year, which includes conference participants, industry partners and booth exhibitors.

Malaysian Ministry of Health Director General of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah urged stakeholders to not work in silos, but to come together to unlock synergies in the Malaysian healthcare industry.

“I’m pleased to announce that MOH has set in motion a Telemedicine Development Group (TDG) for the country, which aims to form an ecosystem with multi-stakeholders collaborating to support development, research and innovation of telemedicine initiatives in Malaysia. MOH will follow up to evaluate these products or applications with clinical and solutions trials; while other agencies will provide financing solution and support,” said Hisham in his opening address.

The TDG will also actively participate in the National Internet of Things strategic roadmap launched in July last year, Hisham added.

Commenting on the Sustainable Development Goals that came into effect in 2016, Hisham said MOH is currently planning a health system reform, which will involve restructuring of services delivery, organisation and financing mechanism of the health system.

“Following on from our engagement with Harvard School of Public Health for Malaysia Health System Research, we have completed Phase One findings, and are in the midst of designing strategic transformation options for the country. In transforming the health sector, we will need to innovate and move away from the normative approach and embrace a new model, while preserving the strengths of the current system,” said Hisham.

“Future healthcare systems will be strengthened by telemedicine, as it will change the way the public accesses technology to manage their health. We address this in how we teach our students.

Over the last two to three years, we have been investing into telemedicine, a multi-disciplinary field involving the School of Engineering, Business, IT, Pharmacy and Medicine,” says Monash University Malaysia President and Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Helen Bartlett.