BANGKOK, Sept 24 — As the world is facing an unexpected change due to the Covid-19 outbreak, hospitals are capitalising on contactless digital healthcare services – a trend driven by social distancing measures – while maintaining access to personalised healthcare during the pandemic.
Thailand’s Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS) Public Co Ltd, the largest private hospital network in the kingdom which has 47 hospitals in Thailand and two in Cambodia, have quickly adopted the provision of telehealth services to treat patients and provide consultations.
BDMS has developed a number of key initiatives including the Samitivej Virtual Hospital (providing real-time consultation with doctors via mobile application), Bangkok Hospital Delivery Services (teleconsultation and in-home health services for blood samples, vaccinations and medications) and Phyathai vaccine fast track (offering drive-through services for vaccination).
Besides that, ‘Healthy Bot’ (a smart robot that connects patients in isolation rooms with doctors to reduce in-person contact and cross infection) and Tytocare (a portable medical examination device that can be used from home to talk to the doctor at a hospital) are used at BDMS network hospitals.
Senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of BDMS, Narumol Noi-am, said the number of patients using digital health initiatives have increased significantly during the second quarter of this year.
Citing an example, she said Samitivej Virtual Hospital had about 500 cases in January this year and the number increased to more than 3,000 cases since March.
“These initiatives are planned to improve our business before the pandemic. However, Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital health.
“We do not expect a high revenue portion from this digital health (component) just yet but these are the alternative channels to enhance medical care and services by keeping contact with patients during the Covid-19 outbreak,” she told Bernama.
BDMS, one of the five largest healthcare networks worldwide in terms of market capitalisation, receives more than 2 million patients per year.
The medical giant generated 83.7 billion baht (RM11.03billion) in revenue last year, of which 70 per cent comes from Thai patients and the remaining 30 per cent comes from international patients.
Amid the Covid-19 outbreak, BDMS’s revenue in the first half of 2020 from international patients fell to 24 per cent – while from Thai patients, it increased to 76 per cent.
In the first half of 2020, BDMS recorded negative growth of 16 per cent year-to-year. Its operating income from January to June this year stood at 33.98 billion, compared to 40.40 billion baht in the same period last year, due to a decline in the number of Thai and international patients.
As the government declared a state of emergency on March 26, the number of patients seeking treatment at hospitals drastically dropped while many are delaying non-emergency and non-essential treatments for fear of catching the deadly virus in hospitals. The travel restrictions and bans on international flights starting April 4 have also contributed to the sharp decline of international patients.
Narumol Noi-am projected that the number of patients will gradually increase in the third and fourth quarter as Thai patients who delay their visits are returning.
Advancing in digital health, she said BDMS is tapping into the ageing population in the region, especially in the upper Asean region and China.
“We hope to increase revenue from Chinese patients. We hope when commercial flights resume, revenue from the Chinese market will increase with higher complexity cases,” she said.
Narumol remains optimistic about the impact of Covid-19, saying that it is a short-term hiccup.
“As the Covid-19 situation in other parts of the world remains worrying, BDMS eyes more foreign patients to seek treatment in Thailand,” she said.
As Thailand relaxed its restrictions and allowed patients and their guardians to travel to the kingdom for certain treatments (except Covid-19) since July 1, BDMS is eyeing more international patients to seek treatment here.
Senior vice president of International Marketing, Corporate Advertising and Public Relations at BDMS, Buranut Limjitti, said there are 30 hospitals under BDMS receiving international patients, to date.
“As of now, the number of medical tourists is very small due to travel restrictions imposed by the government. Only those (patients that) really need (healthcare) are allowed to fly in,” he said.