• Technological advances have made it possible to personalize healthcare diagnosis and treatment.
  • Asia-Pacific region is successfully adopting this approach and utilizing digital tools such as wearable devices.
  • New Roche ‘Personalised Health Index’ enables regional stakeholders to use data collaboratively to improve healthcare systems.

The last year has seen COVID-19 place unprecedented strain on health systems that were already buckling under pressure. Increasing demand for healthcare resources, rising cost pressures, growing health inequities, and an aging population all present complex healthcare challenges. While there is no doubt that there are significant challenges ahead, what is encouraging is that a fundamental step change in healthcare is already underway.

In the past, every person with the same medical condition was offered the same, traditional series of diagnostics and treatment options. Today, however, advances in both technology and medical science are ushering in a new era where treatment and care are tailored – taking into account not only a person's medical history, circumstances and preferences, but also their own genetics and those of their condition.

For the Asia-Pacific region, which is defined by a vast diversity of population, personalised healthcare offers a way of ensuring the right interventions are used for the right person at the right time – not just when a disease presents itself, but more importantly, for prevention.

Making healthcare personal

Personalised healthcare offers a potential solution to many barriers facing healthcare today – making medicine less 'one-size-fits-all’, and more tailored to the individual's unique health make-up. This means clinicians can intervene earlier to keep people healthier for longer and offer treatments that are more effective. It can create unprecedented opportunities for patients, populations, physicians, and researchers and can be pivotal in making health systems more efficient, sustainable, and accessible.

To balance competing demands and achieve long-term resilience, public health systems must embrace decision-making that is based on data and evidence to help healthcare stakeholders prioritize resources and tailor care to individual patients.

Health and healthcare

How is the World Economic Forum bringing data-driven healthcare to life?

The application of “precision medicine” to save and improve lives relies on good-quality, easily-accessible data on everything from our DNA to lifestyle and environmental factors. The opposite to a one-size-fits-all healthcare system, it has vast, untapped potential to transform the treatment and prediction of rare diseases—and disease in general.

But there is no global governance framework for such data and no common data portal. This is a problem that contributes to the premature deaths of hundreds of millions of rare-disease patients worldwide.

The World Economic Forum’s Breaking Barriers to Health Data Governance initiative is focused on creating, testing and growing a framework to support effective and responsible access – across borders – to sensitive health data for the treatment and diagnosis of rare diseases.

The data will be shared via a “federated data system”: a decentralized approach that allows different institutions to access each other’s data without that data ever leaving the organization it originated from. This is done via an application programming interface and strikes a balance between simply pooling data (posing security concerns) and limiting access completely.

The project is a collaboration between entities in the UK (Genomics England), Australia (Australian Genomics Health Alliance), Canada (Genomics4RD), and the US (Intermountain Healthcare).

A new policy tool, the Personalised Health Index developed by leading public health experts and Roche—aims to do just that by measuring the readiness of 11 regions across Asia-Pacific in personalised care. The index enables stakeholders across health ecosystems to identify local, national, and regional strengths and opportunities for improvement and collaboration. Through these insights, healthcare and policy leaders can prioritise efforts and embrace emerging changes in healthcare (like telehealth solutions) and facilitate data-driven decision making (such as genomic profiling to inform a patient’s cancer treatment) to build future healthcare systems that are fit for purpose.

Moving the needle on personalised healthcare

Despite rising healthcare costs and growing populations, Asia-Pacific has the potential to be a strong leader in personalised healthcare. While personalised healthcare is in its infancy across the world, the index shows just how it is gaining significant momentum in Asia.

The index indicates that Singapore is the highest performer in the region for personalised healthcare readiness. It earned its leadership by putting in place several key building blocks for personalised healthcare adoption: plans and strategies for enabling personalised healthcare, including its National Precision Medicine Programme and 'Three Beyonds' programme, as well as a strong digital infrastructure and a high uptake of the technologies needed to power personalised healthcare, such as electronic health records and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

While Singapore may be one of the higher-income countries in the index, middle and lower- income countries are also making notable gains in particular areas. Indonesia, for example, ranked relatively higher in the category of ‘Personalised Technologies’ (which covers wearable devices, AI in healthcare, decision-support systems and reimbursement structures driving personalised healthcare). This can largely be attributed to the role of AI in their health system, with many healthcare functions expected to be automated or augmented by AI in the next five years.

China, which scored lower overall, performed well in the same category due to its uptake of wearable devices that can be used to monitor a person’s health metrics, demonstrating that it is willing to adopt and actively use emerging technologies that support personalised care.

Share of respondents who own wearable electronics in China in 2019.
Image: Statista

The index also looks at the ‘Policy Context’, which examines the policies, frameworks, partnerships and trust in providers as a measure of personalised healthcare readiness. This area has the most diversity in performance among the health systems measured. While higher income countries tended to do better here, this was not the only factor impacting performance. India fared well, for example, due to strong consumer trust in primary, secondary or tertiary health providers, as well as the demonstration of good data repositories and implementation of national health strategies addressing personalised healthcare.

Across Asia-Pacific, countries have shown how the building blocks of personalised healthcare have served health systems well during the pandemic. Countries like Australia prioritised telehealth and remote consultations, Singapore looked to wearable devices to help in contact tracing, while Chinese companies used AI to interpret medical imaging in suspected COVID-19 patients.

Regardless of economic and demographic background, all countries in the index have shown strong individual strengths, and can learn from the approaches used by others elsewhere in the region.

Building future-ready health systems

To accelerate personalised care across the region, health systems will need to take action in a number of key areas, among them is the use of meaningful data. Incentivizing the creation and gathering of personalised healthcare-related data—with increased interoperability—will form a strong foundation and help us work smarter and faster to respond to future health challenges.

Policies that encourage innovation, enable access to data and strengthen data infrastructure will also play a pivotal role in shaping future healthcare systems. Regulations that support an increased use of real-world evidence can facilitate the development of more tailored care guidelines and provide comprehensive insights into patients’ needs and health outcomes.

Building innovative funding solutions, ensuring that medical solutions are available to as many people as possible, and increasing digital literacy can all help us double down on the region’s existing personalised health progress.

Given the unprecedented partnerships and health sector collaboration we witnessed during COVID-19, there is no mistake that governments, policymakers and healthcare stakeholders have a shared healthcare vision. Delivering personalised care will require innovative cross-sector partnerships that will enable health systems to become stronger together.

I believe now is the time to foster these partnerships, embrace bold, new ways of working, and accelerate progress towards personalised care to build health systems that are ready for the future.

Download the white paper: Getting to Personalised Healthcare in APAC.