Information and communication technology (ICT) has transformed our lives in many respects, including how we conduct business transactions and how we communicate with each other. Improvements brought about by ICT are often related to user experience. This is particularly evident in the banking and finance sectors, where the ease and convenience of carrying out transactions have been vastly improved. For instance, many banks now allow transactions to be made through mobile phones in addition to counter and online service, which ultimately gives clients quicker access to their money. In contrast, healthcare seems to undergo technology revolutions relatively more slowly compared to other sectors. Advancements in e-Health (sometimes referred to as digital health) only picked up in the last decade when the more developed healthcare systems, such as the NHS in the UK, started to invest in ICT for improved efficiency and better service quality. 

The definition of e-Health is loose; the term refers to electronic health records (EHR) and tele-consultation, but has recently expanded to include the various mobile apps used to aid diagnosis and monitor patients’ conditions. A recent example is Peek (Portable Eye Examination Kit), an app that uses a typical £300 smart phone to carry out the functions of bulky eye examination equipment, which can cost more than £100,000 [1]. Peek is now being pilot-tested in Kenya and, if proven successful, could revolutionise how we access healthcare services in the future. Systems like this would cut costs for governments and health care providers. In addition, with more health data being collected and patients accessing care from different providers, it is only a matter time before the health sector adopts cloud computing for larger storage space, better security, easier scalability, and greater mobility [2]. Projects like Peek are only the beginning of what’s to come.

The rise of e-Health has created waves in many other parts of the world in recent years, including developing countries like Malaysia. With a population of 28 million, the country had 56 internet users and 109 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 people in 2009, [3] an increase of 45% and 92% respectively compared to 2005 [4]. While there has been a concurrent increase in ICT updates by many industries in the country, especially banking, such a trend still doesn’t immediately  appear apparent in Malaysia’s health sector. Nevertheless, on closer inspection, the South East Asian (SEA) country has undergone some interesting developments in recent years. In a WHO survey assessing the enabling environment for e-Health among countries in SEA, it was noted that Malaysia has implemented e-Government and e-Health policies since the late 1990s [4] and is one of the few countries with specific e-Health legislation [5,6]. Under the government’s economic transformation programme to shift Malaysia towards a “knowledge-based economy,” an entry point project on e-Health was also launched in 2010 [7]. The ultimate aim of the project is to connect all public hospitals and utilise ICT applications for remote and personal monitoring of chronic diseases, as well as to streamline insurance reimbursement by linking health service providers and insurance companies, which will go hand-in-hand with improved information exchange.

The country has a two-tiered healthcare system, with a sizeable private provision of health care co-existing alongside a publicly-funded system [8]. The government’s initiatives so far have led to 90% of its 140 public hospitals and a quarter of its 3,400 public clinics being connected to broadband internet [7]. The next step is to implement EHR in these healthcare establishments, whilst simultaneously integrating existing ones. Meanwhile, several private hospitals have started capitalising on the high mobile subscription rates in Malaysia by developing mobile apps to help their tech-savvy potential clients browse for doctors and health services, as well as book appointments and pay for health screenings [9,10].

Indeed, the potential of e-Health in improving health and healthcare deserves the attention of entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers worldwide. With the seemingly favourable environment, it will be exciting to see e-Health playing a more significant role in the country’s health sector in the foreseeable future, particularly through entrepreneurship. There has been growing support towards entrepreneurship in the country, which recently hosted the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia in October 2013 [11]. Startup Malaysia, for instance, has been established recently as a non-profit organisation to run programmes to support entrepreneurs through their startup processes [12]. While not exclusive to e-Health, these opportunities are valuable for aspiring entrepreneurs wishing to capitalise on the global trend of e-Health. We are on the cusp of change in the healthcare system, as medicine becomes personalised e-Health is going to become increasingly important both healthcare consumers and those who provide it. 

written by Ka Keat Lim of Oxbridge BioTech. see more.

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