Future of Health Informatics in the Philippines

Week 3 Infographic

According to Dr. Alvin Marcelo in his 2005 paper “Health Informatics in the Philippines”, there are three issues that impede the progress of health informatics: [1]

  1. “Foremost is the lack of health human resource interested in the field”
  2. “Second problem is the network infrastructure (which also involves IT human resources”
  3. “Third, the benefits of information technology have not yet dawned to many decision-makers in the health sector.”

To give an idea on how far back 2005 was in terms of technological innovations, the first generation iPhone did not launch until June 2007 and the iPad did not launch until April 2010. The entire world was using Nokia and Motorola phones which were basically limited to calls and sending of sms. Gmail was not publicly available until February 2007 and almost everyone had either a Yahoo or Hotmail email account. Facebook was launched from a dormitory room in 2004 and was merely an infant social networking site compared to the dominant Friendster and MySpace sites.

Fast forward to 2016. Nokia and Motorola are not even among the top 2 smartphone makers in the world as they have been overtaken by Samsung and Apple. Google has dislodged Yahoo and Hotmail in terms of email and search engine services. Lastly, Facebook has 1.59 Billion active users each month, meaning it survived and surpassed the likes of MySpace and Friendster social networking sites many times over.

In a span of 10 years or so, much has changed in terms of technology. In the same way, much has changed the field of health informatics. The issues mentioned by Dr. Alvin Marcelo in 2005 have been addressed. There is no longer a lack of health human resource interested in the field. The increase in interest can be seen through the people studying in the field of health informatics. The numbers may not yet be the same as that of traditional medical and nursing students, but even a minimal increase in applicants for the course is a very significant change. Education plays an important role in teaching and bringing awareness to the human resource about the field of health informatics. The increase in active participation in health informatics will eventually lead to the concept of health informatics becoming a mainstream subject and topic of discussion in more health and education facilities.

The cost of network infrastructure is already much less expensive than it use to be. With the widespread advancement of technology, the cost for producing network equipment, computers and smartphones have drastically gone down and the performance for the same items have improved greatly as compared to the available technology in 2005. This means that a smartphone in 2016 can outperform a home computer used in 2005. This improvement in this part of technology will also greatly help in the future of health informatics in the country.

The benefits of information technology have been recognized by, and already form a part of the business model of almost all companies in this planet. The same can also be said for the health and medical industry. Clinics have computerized records and a number of hospitals have wifi.

Now that the three identified issues have been addressed in the span of ten years, the question confronting us is, “what’s next?” How do we, as medical practitioners, advance the field of health informatics in the Philippines? To answer this, it is necessary to first identify the indicators of advancement. For me there are four indicators that health informatics has advanced:

(1) Ehealth technology has become accessible and widespread

(2) There is beneficial and efficient use of ehealth. The use of technology actually improves services.

(3) The people who use the technology are comfortable and knowledgeable. There is ease of use.

(4) Overall, there is a general awareness of information technology not only of decision-makers but even of medical practitioners and end-users. The general population accepts and promotes the use of technology in the healthcare profession.

For the foregoing to be achieved, the following steps may be taken:

  1. Ehealth can form part of the official curriculum of medical students. Students will be exposed early on to the various technology that is available and how they can be used in actual practice.
  2. Formal staff training. Medical staff will be given continuous training programs on how to use technology. Constant use and practice will make them comfortable with the technology that is available. This exposure will also enable them to think about how else technology can be improved to cater to real-life situations.
  3. Institutions – education, government, private – should promote research into the field, particularly in studying and evaluating what health informatics systems are being used in developed countries.
  4. Identification and adoption of best practices. A survey can be made of best practices of health informatics, whether in pioneer hospitals, or in other countries.
  5. Tailor-fitting health informatics to the Philippine situation. In order to truly advance health informatics in the Philippines, we should be aware of the specific needs in communities and assess how the technology can be used to addressed these needs. The best practices that have been identified can be used as a starting point but should be customized to respond to on-the-ground situations in the Philippines. When people can see how technology improves the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare, they will accept and promote its use. Health informatics will be seen not as something novel but as something that is part and parcel of healthcare.

#MSHI #HI201

Allons-y!

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Reference

[1]Marcelo A. Health Informatics in the Philippines. APAMI/MIST 2006 yearbook.

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