Advancing Telehealth in Asia

By Patrick Graham, CEO Asia Pacific, Cigna International Markets Published on Feb. 01, 2019
The Asia Pacific telehealth market is expected to reach $1.79 billion in 2020.

If you live in the U.S. or Europe, it’s likely you have already experienced telehealth. It’s a popular method of receiving healthcare and is now breaking ground in many more countries, including those in the Asia Pacific.

According to analyst Frost & Sullivan, the Asia Pacific telehealth market was estimated at US$1.02 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach US$1.79 billion in 2020, with an annual growth rate of 12%. 

But, first of all, what exactly do we mean by telehealth?

Generally speaking, telehealth is divided into three different types of services

  1. The capture and storage of medical data that can be used by medical professionals as needed.
  2. Self-monitoring, which allows doctors or other medical staff to monitor medical data generated by a patient in their own home.
  3. ‘Real-time’ telemedicine, such as telephone or video consultations where doctors can review medical information, diagnose conditions and prescribe medication – all without the patient needing to go to the clinic or hospital.

According to the 2017 Cigna 360o Well-Being Survey, 13% of people around the world have already experienced a remote checkup, and an additional 19% are expected to have considered it in 2018. 

Telehealth is not designed to replace clinicians or other healthcare staff, but to improve access to healthcare - whether it's for people who are limited in time or have difficulty accessing healthcare due to culture, language or clinical resources.

Supporting remote communities with real-time health

The world will be short of 12.9 million healthcare workers by 2035 according to the World Health Organization. Telehealth is expected to be particularly important in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where healthcare facilities in most rural areas are usually non-existent or lack proper resources. 

With the assistance of a medical facilitator and a community-based internet connection, rural populations will be able to talk to medical professionals in urban centers. Medical records, vital signs, and other information can be shared in real time. Basic diagnoses can be handled on the spot. For people needing more care, they can be referred for an appointment to the nearest urban clinic or hospital, knowing that their long trip will be worthwhile.

Impacting healthcare in developed markets

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In Asia's developed economies, telehealth is beginning to play an important role in saving time and minimizing inpatient visits and acute deteriorations that lead to emergency hospitalization. 

Cigna International Markets is currently working on a 12-month pilot in Singapore to evaluate the feasibility of a regionwide implementation of telehealth services. Cigna is partnering with MyDoc, a digital healthcare platform, to provide select company clients with real-time, online booking of teleconsultations with primary care physicians and prescription fulfillment at Guardian Pharmacies.

MyDoc was founded in Singapore 2012 as a digital platform. Today, it has become a leading digital health brand offering services in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and China.

Cigna is also launching a telehealth pilot in Hong Kong with Doctor Now, a telemedicine pioneer in Hong Kong. With a team of medical and IT professionals, Doctor Now provides fully-integrated medical concierge solutions. Through the Doctor Now and Cigna Hong Kong partnership, Cigna members can obtain support from a local healthcare provider across multiple points in their healthcare journey – including general practitioner and specialist consultations, imaging tests, laboratory tests, and tele-consultation. 

In the U.S., Cigna is among the lead investors in a $50 million funding round in telemedicine provider MDLive, as well as provide customers access to virtual health services through American Well.

Healthcare for the aging population

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Another important benefit of telehealth will be the way it can help manage the health of the elderly. Older adults with complex care needs want to live as independently as they can for as long and limit stress on family caregivers. Telehealth offers the potential to improve access to care and the quality of care.

Although it is limited today, both because of the technology available and by the internet-capability of elderly people, telehealth will have a huge impact within just a decade. People in their 60's and 70's today are internet and digitally savvy, thus ready to use all the tools available to them to help manage their own care. The benefits will be huge - empowering patients to better manage their own medication, take the pressure off caregivers, clinics and general practitioners, and also allows people the ability – and dignity – to be involved in their own treatment.

Complementary Care

Telehealth is unlikely to displace traditional medical services. However, it is complementary to traditional practices and will be particularly important for patients suffering from chronic ailments and who need consistent feedback from doctors. 

Telehealth will leave payers, providers, and insurers with a complex problem – they need to figure out the payment structure. But this is the kind of challenge we welcome!  

Depending on the outcome of these pilots, there are several commercial models we could pursue, including pay per use, fixed fees or a hybrid model. However, whatever the outcome, we certainly expect to incorporate telehealth as a standard benefit within our core health insurance products in the near future. 

About Cigna

Cigna Corporation (NYSE:CI) is a global health service company dedicated to improving the health, well-being and peace of mind for those we serve. Cigna delivers choice, predictability, affordability and quality care through integrated capabilities and connected, personalized solutions that advance whole person health.