The Ministry of Health (MoH) signed a cooperation agreement in mid-August with the FPT Corporation on applying and developing medical information technology for the national hospital network in the 2018-2028 period. The three most important factors in a smart medical model needed to boost information and communication technologies (ICT) - smart healthcare, smart hospitals, and smart medical management - are set to be built in the years to come. 

“Digital transformation in the healthcare sector is inevitable,” said Mr. Nguyen Duy Hien, Director of the Medical Division at FPT Information System (FPT IS). “Despite a lot of digitalization achievements being seen in Vietnam’s medical industry in recent years, none of the hospitals can operate without physical documents, which creates many issues in medical examinations and treatment. As a result, there are huge opportunities for not only hospital operators but also hi-tech medical equipment and solution providers to invest and transform the entire healthcare sector in the country.”

Digital healthcare

MoH is keen to create a major impact by encouraging large-scale digital transformation in healthcare services and has created the overall tone for investment in the digital space, according to Mr. Masud Parvez, Group IT Director at the Hoan My Medical Corporation. “New technologies like cloud, data science, and mobile have really disrupted the traditional health service model and also created major demand for changing the way of thinking about the traditional hospital leadership team,” he said.

Nearly 20 years after its launch, FPT.eHospital software has provided technology solutions for more than 200 hospitals and medical clinics around Vietnam. The application of the latest Industry 4.0 technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, cloud, mobility, and the Internet of Things (IoT), is considered a highlight of the latest version - FPT.eHospital 2.0. These solutions have had a positive effect on many State hospitals and allowed hospital leaders to manage operations with real-time data and digital medical records. 

For instance, the application of the FPT.eHospital system helped Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi care for a larger number of patients, up to 9,000 a day, or a 15-20 per cent increase. Payment processes for hospital fees and health insurance procedures were also cut from 30 minutes per patient to three to five minutes. The software has also assisted Vinh General Hospital in north-central Nghe An province care for 1,600-1,800 patients each day instead of the previous 300-500.

Mr. Hien said the partnership between MoH and FPT will lead to the digital transformation of the entire sector and drive FPT IS’s greater contribution to changes in Vietnam’s healthcare sector. FPT’s hospital management solutions have also been successfully implemented in foreign-invested international hospitals in the country, including Hoan My and Hoa Lam-Shangri-La, and FPT has also worked with experts in hospital management from Singapore to bring software to the market.

According to Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management and automation solutions, it is predicted that 87 per cent of hospitals in developing countries will soon adopt IoT technology. Modern consumers are accustomed to the concept of smart homes and smart apartments, and smart hospitals will be the next to see greater demand. “This is also in line with the policy of applying Industry 4.0, which the Vietnamese Government has been proactively promoting,” said Mr. Su Ngoc Danh, Vice President of Schneider Electric Vietnam. “That is why we’ve introduced the EcoStruxure for Healthcare product, an IoT solution for electrical systems in hospitals, to medical facilities and hospital managers in Vietnam.”

Another leading transformational technology and service provider, GE Healthcare, has supplied state-of-the-art medical equipment to large hospitals in Vietnam under a number of cooperation agreements since 2012. More than half of all hospitals and clinics in the country have at least one piece of GE medical technology or equipment, according to GE Healthcare Vietnam.

Addressing demand

Business Monitor International (BMI) has reported that Vietnam’s healthcare expenditure was estimated at $16.1 billion in 2017, or 7.5 percent of GDP. It forecasts that healthcare spending will grow to $22.7 billion by 2021, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 12.5 per cent from 2017 to 2021.

A report on private equity in Vietnam released by Grant Thornton revealed that healthcare and pharmaceuticals ranked third in terms of industry attractiveness for investors, described by 38 per cent of respondents as “very attractive”. The demand for healthcare and safety has been increasing in line with customer awareness of health issues. Thus, calls for multinational businesses providing health-related services are critical given the need for long-term investment, the report stated.

Leading international hospitals in Vietnam have achieved initial success in IT application. Hoan My has been implementing an online consulting application, leading to a move in medical examination and treatment services from offline to online. Its network hospitals also offer cutting-edge medical technology to meet demand. “We are currently building a specialized 500-bed oncology hospital, which will be equipped with two advanced dual energy Linear Accelerator Systems to serve cancer patients in southern Vietnam,” Mr. Parvez said.

Digital technology aims at automating and facilitating processes, thus replacing manual, paper-based, processes. “We invest ceaselessly in all aspects of the hospital,” Mr. Jean-Marcel Guillon, CEO of FV Hospital, told VET. “For example, we have recently implemented an online pharmacy module and are preparing for the implementation of a much-improved electronic medical record system with the objective of becoming paperless in a few years. We are also working with specialized providers that have developed software that would have been unimaginable ten years ago.”

Moreover, “digital transformation also impacts positively on the way we manage the hospital,” he added. “FV Hospital is building financial and non-financial dashboards and reports in Microsoft Power BI, to create a comprehensive business intelligence tool, we have deployed GE AssetPlus, which is an enterprise-scale computerized maintenance management system dedicated to healthcare, and we are preparing to implement SalesForce CRM and many other projects.” 

Numerous initiatives are underway to transform Vietnam’s healthcare sector, including building new public facilities and expanding the private healthcare sector and universal insurance coverage, which will have the concomitant effect of further increasing demand, according to Mr. John Lucas, Medical Director at FV Hospital. Vietnam’s healthcare sector is at the crossroads and a guiding principle must be established to optimize performance by benefiting from increased financing, investment, and new facilities.

Hindering use

Most hospitals in Vietnam share common challenges: data management, hospital security in regard to equipment theft, patient safety, and lowering operating costs. One of the most cost-effective investment methods is to transform the traditional management model into an IoT-enabled digital hospital architecture, which would help reduce not only human resources pressure and operating costs but also data processing time.

Mr. Lucas commented that Vietnam’s healthcare sector also faces challenges found in other emerging economies. These include rising consumer demand and expectations from a hospital sector that is experiencing overcrowding, poor access, and maldistribution of resources between urban and rural markets, as well as a medical establishment that is not oriented towards service excellence or to providing efficient continuing care to patients with the chronic diseases associated with ageing and affluence.

One of the key challenges in implementing IT solutions in healthcare compared with other industries, according to Mr. Parvez from Hoan My, is compliance and safety levels. “We spend a lot of our efforts on ensuring compliance and safety and improving the customer experience,” said. “Localized challenges for Vietnam include acquiring a digital skillset and a better attitude among medical professionals towards digital solutions. We are expanding our hospital coverage with a vision to bringing our services to more Vietnamese people, so a large number of medical professionals are joining us. Moving forward, we are also working to improve our learning and evaluation portal to equip our professionals with an even stronger digital skillset.”  Adding vision to local rural hospitals to transform the patient experience and optimize operations costs though digital solutions would be a great way to take those initiative’s positive impacts to the next level, he said. 

Mr. Guillon from FV Hospital believes a major problem is that regulations relating to electronic medical records are outdated, do not match the capabilities of modern technology, and create barriers that should not exist and therefore must be reviewed.

Mr. Parvez added that new technologies could force leaders in healthcare to adopt high technology to create new dimensions that support operational decisions and that leaders must view the patient experience to ensure they’re strategies are heading in the right direction. “Anyone avoiding the latest trends or delaying adoption will suffer significantly in the near future in terms of business model innovation and the patient experience,” he said.