Interoperability biggest challenge for Asia healthcare IT

Asian hospitals have different IT systems which makes an interoperable EMR system difficult to implement, and government support and impetus is needed for such initiatives to be successful.

SINGAPORE--Interoperability issues continue to bug hospitals in Asia-Pacific looking to have access to patients' medical records, and governments will have to take the lead to pave the way for nationwide electronic medical record (EMR) systems to take off.

Johnny Ma, Asia-Pacific general manager for health and life sciences at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), said the best way for effective diagnosis is to have a single medical record for every individual, but the possibility for duplicate records is high as the person may visit more than one hospital.

In order to exchange and consolidate patient records, hospitals in the region need to be able to communicate across their different IT systems. But such interoperability remains a "quite a significant challenge", Ma noted.

"From a technical point of view, [the different hospitals] are using different IT systems. From the business point of view, it's about business benefits. While medical records belong to the patient, at the same time, it's also a business asset," he explained.

Furthermore, healthcare facilities in Asia do not follow the national healthcare insurance systems favored by the United States or certain European countries which provides an impetus to consolidate medical records. These countries are able to use the insurance system to stipulate industry standards for EMR, which means hospitals that do not comply to the rules risk not being paid for their medical services, the executive said.

As such, governments in this part of the world play an important role in driving interoperability between hospitals and they stand to benefit most, Ma stated. With interoperable records, governments are able to save on medical subsidies as patients will not need to conduct the same medical examination or X-ray scan twice when they seek a second opinion from different medical practitioners, he elaborated.

Governments will also have more medical data to allow them to conduct research on discover on issues such as why a particular illness is more widespread in different areas of the country, he said.

EMR efforts in Asia encouraging
Despite the challenges, some countries in Asia are already taking steps in setting up their EMR systems, Ma pointed out.

Singapore and Hong Kong , for example, are two markets that have started consolidating their citizens' medical records. These two nations are both compact, have good healthcare systems and medical staff with high standards, and these factors make it easier to implement an interoperable EMR system, he said.

In fact, both countries are ready to move on to the next step and use EMR for clinical decision support. This means medical staff can use the data to make decisions on how to treat patients, such as avoiding prescribing treatment and medicine that provokes a patient's allergies, the executive explained.

China, too, is moving fast in setting up its national health record system. Ma said China is trying to "squeeze" what took Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea 10 years to achieve and reach it in 2 to 3 years. It is doing "very well" and is forward looking in that it plans to incorporate a DNA data bank to facilitate diagnostics and research work, he added.