The Future of Healthtech in South East Asia

South East Asia (SEA) is facing a myriad of healthcare challenges such as the aging population, diabetes, limited access, increasing costs, and constrained resources. Siemens, Frost & Sullivan, KJP and many others in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have agreed that digital health has a key role to play in the region.

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Throughout the last month I’ve had the privilege to travel across Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. This provided some interesting insights into the region from leading experts. My latest visit to Malaysia and Singapore were especially fruitful as I visited the “Future of Healthcare 2018” and the “Galen Growth Forum”.

The View from Malaysia

At the Future of Healthcare 2018 forum - amazingly organized by Rita Moore and the EUMCCI team - a line up of speakers discussed trends in the SEA markets. Amongst many of these markets, especially the developing ones, we see a strong trend towards the import of physician services. Singapore is one of the suppliers for these services, while it’s focusing on reducing public health expenditure through affordable pharmaceuticals and devices. In contrast, Malaysia has taking the route of investing in private healthcare to offset the relative decline in public spending. In Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia this trend is combined with the expansion of private hospitals.

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While the region has different needs there are also strong communinalities such as healthcare (R&D) investment as a key point, regional integration of healthcare services, and regulatory streamlining. While markets like Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos might be lagging there are clear market value increases across the region. This value is increasingly being created through RPM and Healthcare IT.

The presentation from Siemens Healthineers primarily focused on the intermittent and disconnected nature of today’s healthcare. Especially, in the context of diagnostics, medical devices and hardware they foresaw a huge market opportunity. They saw huge volume increases of patients while healthcare providers remain reliant on paper based solutions. Their primary solutions will be focused on hospital size healthcare providers. Through machine learning they are investing heavily in disease recognition in the context of CT and MRI imaging. In addition, they are strongly focused on improving the experience and efficiency of the doctor-patient relation. This was especially interesting in the Malaysian context where there is an increasing need for custom medical devices and a sprawling production industry.

The View from Singapore

GROM was invited to the Galen Growth Forum as one the most promising healthtech startups in the region. At the forum the focus was more on early stage startups and the regional ecosystem. They observed a strong regional continuation of investment growth into healthtech across the region. Singapore continues to lead the way when it comes to early stage investment, but Indonesia was a clear growing market. While the speakers were a great mix of investors and entrepreneurs, many of the visitors were very focused on deep tech initiatives. Although the general horizon for a VC is 8 to 10 years, it felt strange that many visitors were only focused on 10-20 years. It does make you question the interest in solving everyday problem in the 5-10 years ahead.

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As a Hong Kong “local” it was good to hear my city come up on some occasions. Interestingly, Hong Kong houses only found 30 healthtech startups, compared with the Philippines with an approximate 90. A lot of work clearly needs to be done to put Hong Kong on - or even near - the map.

Overall, it was a great experience to talk to fellow founders and learn about the problems they are solving. It was clear that the regional healthcare infrastructure still has miles to go. That being said, the exponentially growing challenges have created a clear push towards the convergence of healthcare and IT.

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