By Jenina P. Ibañez

THE healthcare outsourcing sector is seeing increased demand due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, with the industry now making plans to boost automation systems as the global healthcare sector shifts to digital.

Healthcare Information Management Association of the Philippines (HIMAP) President Roger Salazar Jr. in an online interview on Wednesday said that most member companies are seeing growth in the industry post-lockdown, with some of the 70 members looking at a 10-15% growth.

The sector has been re-channeling voice teams to handle COVID-19 calls.

The industry, which had focused on medical transcription in the early 2000s, had shifted to higher-value medical outsourcing such as clinical operations, pharmacy benefit management, and clinical provider calls, among others.

“All of [the clients] are experiencing some level of growth, an uptick in their demand because of the nature of the pandemic at this time. That has led to repurposing some resources as a result of this to focus on the pandemic,” Mr. Salazar said.

He said the industry may now shift to further its technological tools, including analytics to assess and predict voice calls and improve screening for the healthcare needs of patients. The industry can also automate some processes in informing clients of their healthcare plans.

“One of the things we realized, because of the cost of healthcare — it keeps going up. People want to get more and more involved in deciding what kind of care they want. So by putting this information into their hands, whether we use technology like mobile phones or computers, they can see the options available for them, they can help decide what kind of healthcare they want,” he said.

He said that as senior citizens and other vulnerable groups stay at home to avoid infection, healthcare services will need to be more portable.

“We’ll have to provide more home service. We have to see what we can do to improve in terms of portability of the services we do for them rather than have them come to the clinics, because they will be exposed there. As a result we have to arrange for healthcare providers to come to see them, [resulting in] more house calls,” he said.

“As a result of this pandemic — it has really transformed a lot of the things we do. Digitalization of our business will increase. People will learn to order their medicines online and have it delivered. Telehealth, healthcare through video conferencing…that will take it to the next level: make it more interactive, more consultative,” he said.

He said there will be a shift in the healthcare outsourcing workforce, which will require retraining for more complex work.

In the meantime, Mr. Salazar said some members have reached out to the government to offer their telemedicine services for domestic healthcare.

“Especially in the provinces that have limited healthcare, maybe through telehealth, we’re able to help them in our own way,” he said.

He said the industry must prepare for a “new type of growth” that focuses on automation instead of traditional services, or on growth that does not just focus solely on the cost-advantages of the Philippines.

“The kind of growth will change as a result of this [pandemic] and we have to prepare our teams, our people to be able to handle the new growth. Retraining them will have to be very strong, because the needs of the market are changing. [The markets] will have their new normal, and we will also have our new normal,” he said.