The Philippines ranks fourth among 13 Asian markets in overall health perception, with more than half of Filipinos (57%) being optimistic about their health, according to Pulse of Asia: The Health of Asia Barometer, a report developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and supported by British multinational insurance company Prudential plc that outlines the current state of healthcare in the region, its challenges, and the role digital health technology can play to improve wellness.
“People are generally optimistic when it comes to health and well-being. This optimism about the future, however, is not correlated with life expectancy,” said Andrew Y. K. Wong, chief health officer of Prudential Corporation Asia, in a recent roundtable discussion.
Singapore and Hong Kong enjoy higher life expectancies, said Mr. Wong, but their citizens are relatively downbeat about health. “In places like Indonesia and the Philippines, on the other hand, people are more positive about health in the mid-term. They are more optimistic about managing their health.” (According to data from the World Bank, life expectancy in Hong Kong is 84.93 years; Singapore, 83.15 years; Indonesia, 71.51 years; and the Philippines, 71.10 years.)
Filipinos also rank second (34%) among Asians to have taken measures in the past three months to improve their emotional well-being. This, after reporting they were depressed and anxious (40%), and that they experienced elevated stress, anxiety, and depression as a result of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (42%).
“Treat mental health at par with physical health,” Mr. Wong said. “Although there is increased optimism, in general, most societies are still fazed from the various lockdowns and the frequent isolation from friends and family.” He added the government needs to help manage this concern.
TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP FILL HEALTHCARE GAPS
The Asia-wide research, which surveyed 5,000 people during the second half of 2020, also presents the potential of technology to combat healthcare challenges. Four in five respondents (81%) said technology has already improved their access to health services, while three in five (60%) believe it has improved its affordability. Three years from now, 71% of those surveyed said they will rely on technology even more to improve their personal health and well-being.
“Digital health technologies are popular but need to work harder for citizens,” the report said, citing a need for centralized data repositories, such as patient health records.
In the Philippines, 79% of respondents say they already use digital health platforms, as well as personal health technologies such as smartwatches and fitness trackers. More than a third (36%), however, prefer in-person consultations, the highest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
Strict data governance needs to underpin connected health services, the report recommends. Data security enables health data to be safely centralized, and empower governments to design better policies around healthcare infrastructure.
“There is a need to connect digital health technologies in the Philippine context and identify which mobile apps would be in the best position to help the common folk,” said Dr. Raymond R. Sarmiento, director of the National Telehealth Center.
The Philippines, he added, has a high attrition rate. “There are those who download an app and then stop using it after five days,” he said. “Others download apps, which then sit idly on their phones and don’t get revisited.” — Patricia B. Mirasol