February 2007

An urgent need to improve the state of Asia’s e-Health

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Though the concept of e-Health is gaining currency across all developed nations of the west, in Asia, the inroads made by the ICT applications in the health sector have not been very exciting. In Asia, e-Health is still conceived as an elitist hype, and this phenomenon has yet to gain critical pace to reach out to its teeming millions.

The reasons for this poor reach of e-Health in Asia are not far to seek; the obvious ones are the lack of comprehensive healthcare infrastructure, and the lack of awareness about new technology in most of the Asian countries. However, if the healthcare sector of Asia wants to keep pace with the times, it cannot stay isolated from advances in ICT developments, for only a prudent amalgamation of ICT and health could usher in a healthy tomorrow for the continent.

But amidst the clouds, there are some silver linings. Malaysia is a case in the point. Telemedicine and medical informatics as the crucial components of Multimedia Super Corridor project is taking Malaysia by storm, towards the digital age. The focus of MSC-based telemedicine project is to establish a healthcare system, which can leverage advanced information and multimedia technologies to deliver hitherto unattainable healthcare services at the individual, family and community-level.

Malaysia can also vie for the distinction of installing the world's first teleconsultation network. WorldCare (a global player in e-consultation) has put in place a comprehensive teleconsultation network spanning 41 Ministry of Health centers across Malaysia. The 30-month-old project commenced way back in April 2000, when world was yet to wake up to the idea of e-Health. Moreover, under the Ninth Malaysian Plan, US$3.5 billion has already been allocated for telehealth services, health record and health plan sharing, formation of National Health Informatics Centre, expansion of teleconsultation services and implementation of hospital information systems, in the selected hospitals and clinics of Malaysia.  Though the facts are encouraging, we need to remember that Asia does not end at Malaysia and the call is for developing countries in South Asia to surge ahead in e-Health initiatives, through systematic and sustained approach in needs assessment, development, deployment and evaluation of e-Health applications. Perhaps there is an intense need to have a viable platform to discuss, disseminate and analyze the potential of e-Health in Asia.

In this context, eHealth Asia 2007, being held from 6-8 February 2007 at Putrajaya International Convention Centre(PICC), Putrajaya, Malaysia, is a significant step in addressing this growing concern. The conference aims to share experiences on the utilization, efficiency and impact of e-Health applications and attempts to explore how best to use the best practices within specific Asian countries. I would like to take this opportunity to inform our valued readers that some of the speakers at our eHealth Asia 2007 conference have contributed their articles in this issue, enriching our content. We hope that this event will go a long way in creating a congenial climate for spreading the message of e-Health across Asia.

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