The healthcare transformation will come about on two fronts, said a biopharmaceutical executive speaking at TechNode Global’s ORIGIN 2020 conference on Wednesday. First, “There will be a much higher uptake of digital technology in healthcare services and delivery.” Second, there will be more incumbent-disruptor partnerships in the healthcare space.

“Technology providers with great functional capabilities can potentially transform some  healthcare work, even if they do not fully grasp the industry,” said Anil Argilla, head of emerging Asia region at Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group. The sweet spot is where healthcare incumbents work with technology providers to leverage and unlock the potential of health data which resides in the world, he added during a panel discussion moderated by Hui Hong Seow, business and programme director of venture studio BlueChili Group.

Chang Liu, Greater China region director at non-profit advisory group ACCESS Health, said during the discussion that the potential of digital technology in healthcare goes beyond telehealth. 

Many Chinese healthtech players, like WeDoctor, are becoming the backbone of the healthcare system: Healthcare delivery is only one part of what they do. Integrating with healthcare financing and transforming into a value-base system is how digital technology can achieve its potential, said Liu. 

“China has been at the forefront of fintech growth, and an interesting direction we are seeing now in China is how fintech innovation blurs the traditional health care boundaries,” Liu added. China has been leading the world in the adoption of Fintech, according to Ernst and Young’s 2019 fintech adoption index

Read more: The future of healthtech in China is B2B

“Telehealth for a fact has helped with decentralizing resources across Asia and we have seen its benefit during the pandemic,” said Carlos Jo Loo, investment associate at corporate venture capital firm MassMutual Ventures (Southeast Asia).

Digital health is often regarded as a complex digital solution, but something as simple as a workflow optimization tool can add value to the healthcare providers, he added.

“Digital therapeutics, coupled with artificial intelligence and wearable techs, are what I’m bullish about,” Loo said.

There is scope for digital health players to actively engage governments in shaping regulatory frameworks, according to the experts, noting that healthcare regulations differ from region to region.

“The challenge in Asia healthcare innovation is that the region has distinctly different markets and we can’t paint it with a broad brush,” said Argilla. 

Varying capabilities to manage healthcare technology infrastructure, and income inequality have led to some disparity in applying digital health across the region, Argilla said. Rural population stands at 48% of the total population in Asia. “The digital health solutions can’t play to its full potential with an unequal access to technology,” he said.

“We constantly remind healthcare providers to pay attention to the vulnerable and underserved groups,” said Liu. “Think of how else you can innovate your business model to drive sustainable resources to that last mile.” 

He cited an example of China’s online mutual aid platforms—plans which are often thought to provide an added layer of protection—as a business model with great potential to perform in Southeast Asia. 

To boost growth in Asia, Loo says that it is important to develop a robust business model in making digital health affordable. With the region’s middle-class population growing fast, he called on digital health providers to adapt to meet increasingly higher demands and expectations. 

The dynamics of digital health space is getting more interesting as many new players are getting in, Liu said. Speaking from his own experience in engaging healthcare stakeholders, Liu added that it is almost impossible to reach a consensus between a pharmaceutical company and an insurance company. “Pharmaceuticals want more reimbursement, whereas insurers want to take control of the costs,” he said. “Take a step back and look at what is the common interest.o