The first in a two-part series on tackling healthcare in Southeast Asia 

Finding Healthtech’s Golden Ratio

The first in a two-part series on tackling healthcare in Southeast Asia 

The changing landscape of healthcare

In ancient times, holy men dominated the practice of healing. Powerful leaders like the Pharaohs of Egypt were flocked by priests, the only ones who could read the books of medicine, proclaimed to be the work of the gods. Healthcare at this time was widely considered a religious affair, left to magicians whose care was bought with prayer and power. 

Before WebMD, there was the Papyrus Ebers, the oldest medical papyri from Egypt on herbal medicine c/o Britannica

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find people monitoring vitals on smart watches as they do their morning jog. It is also not a foreign concept to use DNA ancestry to predict the likelihood of disease. The power of data for healthcare is being harnessed at manifold levels by tech companies, and healthcare can be reached within the tap of a screen. It seems almost magical, and yet, technology solutions are powering many healthcare services in developed markets and highly urbanized areas. 

At the same time, many communities, especially those outside of urban areas, remain without basic health centers or access to treat diseases like polio. Data, even from basic medical records, are unavailable. This disparity results in an expanse of healthcare solutions equally vast, ranging from new age hospitals to deep tech. These solutions vary in dosage of technology — is it a pure technology solution, or does it involve delivering resources for “care” as well (eg doctors, physical establishments, medicines, etc.)? 

Finding the golden ratio of technology and care in Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, healthcare startups are generally more focused on improving the delivery of healthcare services, from insurance to doctors appointments and antibiotics. Even then, there are stark differences in focus for each market in the region. 

Tech solutions best suited for each market depend on how the public healthcare system evolved in the country and the ratio of doctors to patients. Inefficient public healthcare systems with low doctor-to-patient ratio have a stronger focus on equipping and supplying resources across the market, as with new age hospitals and smart clinics. 

For example, Vietnam’s overloaded public healthcare system, exclusive private hospitals, and rising out-of-pocket expenses are pushing health techs to focus on delivering healthcare services at an affordable cost to more of the population. 

Meanwhile, those with more developed healthcare systems and higher doctor-to-patient ratio tend to prioritize affordability and convenience with standalone technology platforms like mobile health apps and AI diagnostic solutions. 

In Singapore and Thailand, well established, centralized healthcare systems have led to consumer preferences evolving from need to convenience. Telemedicine, teleconsulting, and online insurance platforms dominate the landscape as consumers prefer services on-demand, online, and highly personalized. 

Technology startups need to deliver value where it is truly needed in the market. Such value can address either shortage (balancing the doctor to patient ratio), affordability, or quality. The onus for founders is to find the golden ratio of “care” (healthcare resources) and technology that applies for the problem they are addressing. 

Adjusting the golden ratio for the long-term

It’s not just about figuring out this “golden ratio” of care and technology, however. Successful models in healthcare globally are focused on providing solutions that decrease or prevent risk of disease rather than curing or medicating. This can be seen in companies in the US which focuses on diagnostics, like HeartFlow, and detection, like Grail, important tools that can increase prevention. In China, iCarbonX is digitalising a holistic view of healthcare, combining genomics with a host of other health factors including lifestyle to create health profiles for users. 

This proactive approach to healthtech adjusts the golden ratio for more long-term value for the patient. It’s no longer just about tackling inefficiencies and problems in hospitals and clinics but across the patient’s entire lifestyle, from physiological concerns to day-to-day living.

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Linh Nguyen is a Senior Investment Analyst at Insignia Ventures Partners. Prior to Insignia she worked in Analytics and Sales in Bloomberg and was a Global Market Analyst at Citi. She focuses on Vietnam, healthtech, and edtech companies.