By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter 

PHILIPPINE HOSPITALS are in a “fragmented state of digitalization,” according to Dr. Michael B. Muin, chief information officer of mWell, a telemedicine subsidiary under Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), and co-founder of HL7 Philippines, the local arm of a non-profit that provides the healthcare industry standard for data exchange.  

“Some big hospitals are in the midst of their digital transformation initiatives, while the majority of other hospitals are still struggling with their hospital information systems,” he said in a text message to BusinessWorld. “However, it cannot be denied that hospitals want to move toward digitalization, especially to comply with the Universal Health Care Act and the changing demands of patients brought about by the pandemic.” 

A hospital should adopt an information technology (IT) strategy that supports its business goals, said Dr. Muin, who advised aligning IT plans with one to three major initiatives in a July 22 webinar organized by HCL7 Philippines.  

“Is the plan to build a cancer center or add new diagnostic equipment?” he said. “The overall approach for IT — is it to improve the data center or move to the cloud? This puts context to IT projects and acquisitions.”  

An IT planning framework has 10 domains: core transactional systems; operational support systems; ancillary and departmental systems; clinical IT systems; telemedicine; data analytics; communications and capacity building; customer engagement; system integration; and other innovations.  

Hospitals with limited budgets can start with a core transactional system, which captures important transactions along the patient journey — from patient registration to patient billing — Dr. Muin said.  

“It helps the business get a sense of where they are operationally and financially,” he added in a July 26 e-mail. “The beauty of the framework is it doesn’t have to be implemented in a linear fashion.”  

A way to figure out if an operations support system is needed, for instance, is to look for “paper triggers.” Stacks of papers littering the human resources, accounting, and/or customer relations departments indicate that streamlining is in order.  

Hospitals keen on moving to the cloud, meanwhile, can start with use cases related to disaster recovery, information exchange, and document workflows.  

“I would not recommend moving transactional systems to the cloud just yet,” Dr. Muin said. “We are dealing with patient care and human lives. Unless your bandwidth setup assures an almost 100% uptime, keeping them on-premise for now is best.”  

Hospitals that offer telemedicine services do not necessarily need to have an electronic medical records (EMR) system in place, Dr. Muin added. 

An EMR provides real-time access to patient health information, and is used by the healthcare team as a primary information resource in patient care delivery.   

“What is ideal in a telemedicine consultation is access to past medical records,” he said, noting how this requirement can be done with paper charts. “EMRs make it convenient, however, for the doctor to search and access the records without going through the manual process of retrieving paper charts.”  

Data can also yield insights on patient behavior: such as how convenience trumps distance when choosing which hospital to visit. He related that patients would rather take a single ride to a farther hospital than take two rides to a nearer one. “You realize things like that with better data,” he said.  

MPIC is one of three key Philippine units of First Pacific, the others being Philex Mining Corp. and PLDT, Inc. 

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