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Finding real wealth in health industry

2014-02-17 10:17 China Daily Web Editor: qindexing

Asia is revolutionizing the global medical enterprises with cost-saving and quality measures

It may be the best time ever to be living right now. Over the past four decades, the life expectancy of Asians has increased by more than a decade to more than 70 years, thanks to the development of the healthcare industry.

New drugs, medical equipment, therapies, organizations, policies and healthcare systems have emerged one after another, bringing improvements in people's lives and changes in their thinking about health management.

"In the last century, the biggest challenges we had were communicable disease and infectious diseases. Now we are moving into the new century. Our biggest challenges now are NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as obesity and mental health problems," says Ara Darzi, chairman of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London and executive chairman of the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH). The latest WISH seminar was held in December in Doha, Qatar.

Darzi says although the challenges in tackling diseases are similar around the world, adapting to innovations differs. "What's interesting about Asia is that the uptake seems to be quicker in some parts of this region," he says.

China has done a remarkable job in healthcare system reform, he believes, especially in tackling the shortage of per capita healthcare resources.

"The human capital shortage is a big challenge in Asia," he says. "If big countries such as China run the healthcare system the same way Europe does, it will probably take another 20 years to have enough general practitioners."

That in many ways has driven China and some other Asian countries to think in a different way, coming up with "workforce-reducing innovations", which include giving patients technologies to substitute the need for more doctors.

Also, it is practical to use nurse practitioners and other clinicians, rather than purely relying on doctors, he points out.

"Patient engagement will be the blockbuster drug of the 21st century, which will help countries shepherd resources," said Susan Edgman-Levitan, executive director of the Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital, at the WISH meeting.

Across Asia, healthcare costs are rising faster than countries' ability to meet them. Experts argue that the answer to the crisis is not going to come from doing more of the same.

Instead, a fundamental shift toward harnessing the patients and the public who care about improving their own health could be the solution.

In India, patients are helping to combat counterfeit medicine by using free text messaging to verify authenticity through the organization mPedigree Network.

The network partnered with several pharmaceutical manufacturers to place an authenticity code on product packaging so that patients, providers, distributors and manufacturers can utilize the free service to confirm the product's authenticity at the point of sale or transfer.

According to a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the annual average per capita healthcare spending in the Asia-Pacific region has more than doubled between 2001 and 2011, from $150 to $362. It is expected to reach $546 by 2016.

The soaring costs spent on the healthcare sector stimulate the creation of higher quality products with lower costs to suit the demands of local markets.

More global medical giants such as GE Healthcare, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals and Medtronic Inc have either set up global research and development centers or moved headquarters to Asia to meet the special needs of the local market.

Most healthcare innovations are now made to treat NCDs, with experts believing that Asia is leading the way in innovations to deal with the rising cases.

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