New Zealand Keeps Finger on the Pulse of Healthcare IT Solutions


Tony Robinson,  New Zealand Trade Commissioner, Singapore

Healthcare demands are set to grow significantly in Asia-Pacific as the region experiences both a flourishing economy and ageing population.

Asia-Pacific is  home to more than 335 million people over the age of 60 and the size of 60+ group  in the region is projected to double from 9.4 per cent in 2000 to 23.5 per cent of the total population by 2050, according to the 2005 UN estimates.

This will inevitably result in a greater number of medical conditions related to senior citizens and a much greater demand for specialised and improved medical attention.

As part of the strategy for establishing improved healthcare systems, governments across South East Asia are investing in health ICT solutions that will help them manage diverse medical demands on tight budgets.

New Zealand suffers the same challenges of an ageing population—with the age group over 65 expected to account for 87 per cent of the growth in total population during    2005 - 2051. Thankfully, it has recorded  one of the highest levels in making  use of healthcare IT in the world—with hospitals, doctors and pharmacies known to have employed electronic medical systems for over 20 years.

On top of this, the New Zealand business community is known for continuing to deliver innovative and technology-driven solutions,  which are increasingly making their way into Asia’s healthcare system.

By 2050, according to the UN, almost 30 per cent of Singaporeans will be senior citizens. By that time, some of Asia’s most populous nations–India and Indonesia-will have 12.7 and 15.8 per cent of their populations classed as senior citizens. Another of Asia’s larger populations, Japan, will have 36.5 per cent classified as senior citizens. As a result, Japan’s healthcare  spend is expected to grow more than double, from 6.1 per cent of GDP in 2006-2010, to 12.5 per cent in 2060, and Indonesia’s will rise from 1.2 per cent to 7.3 per cent.

Meanwhile urbanisation continues across Asia, and city populations are expected to expand at an unprecedented rate – more than half of the population (55 per cent) in Asia will live in urban areas by 2030, according to statistics from Asian Development Bank. McKinsey predicts that 900 million people are expected to transition from poverty into middle class in developing Asian countries by 2020. Better education and employment opportunities will continue to drive the growth of cities, leading to an increased awareness of and access to quality healthcare.

There is already  a surge in medical tourism in Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, which provide quality healthcare at reasonable costs, attracting increased numbers of Europeans, Australasians and Americans looking  for qualitative and cost-effective medical care (Not sure what an asset means here.)

Medical tourism is tipped to grow to US$1 trillion in AsiaPacific by 2016, with annual growth rate projected at 13 per cent, according to a UBS CIO research. Patients from America and Europe have realised that they can save a lot of money by travelling abroad for surgery. Those needing heart bypass surgery will spend on average US$113,000 in the US, whereas the same procedure costs just US$20,000 in Singapore, and half this price in India. But most medical tourists in Asia come from within the region, as many patients are drawn to neighbouring countries with better facilities. For example, medical tourists from Indonesia and Malaysia spent US$765 in Singapore in 2011.

With  such options available, the number of people seeking out treatment in Asia could double  during the period 2011 to 2015—the number of medical tourist arrivals is expected to top 10 million by next year.

Asia’s two largest medical tourism hot spots are Singapore and Thailand, with India fast becoming another country of choice because of its low cost. Singapore is a standout because it has one of the most advanced healthcare infrastructures in the world—the World Health Organisation (WHO) has placed it at sixth out of 191 countries in its global ranking of healthcare systems. Thailand attracts medical tourists both due to its affordability and quality of services, as well as its natural attractions, which lets patients combine medical treatment with a holiday.

To meet the growing demands of medical attention for an ageing  population and the surge in medical tourism, Asia will need to invest heavily in healthcare advances and technology. New Zealand, a global leader in healthcare IT, has already been partnering with several Asian institutions to help them manage demands through top-notch IT solutions that enable more efficient and affordable treatment.

The country has set a strong track record, with its healthcare IT adoption being among one of the highest globally. Every day, 90 per cent of primary care physicians and 100 per cent of laboratories in New Zealand communicate via secure health data networks. 99 per cent of New Zealand’s pharmacies are computerised and electronic medical systems have been in place for over 20 years .

New Zealand’s focus on innovation and technology is helping Asia overcome its healthcare challenges    by streamlining data systems. One interesting case study is that of Precept Health, which has been selling its technological innovations to the world since 2006.

The company integrates patient physiology data from a number of different devices to make it accessible in real-time, through simple yet cost-effective means.

Precept’s technology is now being used in operating theatres and intensive care units in hospitals around the world, reducing the work-load for clinicians, improving accuracy and creating better outcomes for patients.

Ninety per cent of the company’s sales are from exports to Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the United States, and the medical solutions are in use at 50 hospitals worldwide.

Precept’s first solid order helped establish the company, and was from Temerloh hospital in Malaysia, following an introduction at a New Zealand Trade & Enterprise trade show.

Healthcare Digitisation

Digitising health records is an important application of healthcare IT, particularly with the global trend shifting towards cloud adoption, which provides better access to patient history while contributing to overall treatment.

Singapore, for instance, has established National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) system with which all public healthcare institutions are now signed up. The platform allows individual electronic health records to be collected and viewed in Singapore over a large distributed network. New Zealand e-Health software company Orion Health was involved in developing the program with Singapore’s Ministry of Health, combining its experience of developing a similar programme for New Zealand and its partnership with over 300,000 clinicians and millions of patients in 30 countries.  

Confirming its commitment to the region, Orion Health recently signed a major investment agreement for a new 1000sqm2 facility and plans to double their staff  in Bangkok.

This allows the company to hire and train more staff to take advantage of the rapidly rising demand for high-quality e-Health solutions. Orion’s Thailand team will be rolling out the company’s award-winning Hospital Information Systems, collaborating with their partner hospital, Bumrungrad International, the largest in Southeast Asia and listed on the Thai stock exchange.

Of the millions of patients Bumrungrad sees every year, more than 500,000 are international. They include thousands of expatriates who live in Bangkok and nearby countries, plus visitors from 200 countries around the world who travel there for safe, cost-effective treatment.

International patients appreciate that English is widely spoken in the hospitals and there are plenty of interpreters on hand. Orion Health’s Hospital Information Systems help to streamline processes, changing the way that patients are managed and the care is delivered. Reduced patient wait times, speedy processing at laboratories and communication of real-time medical records between the hospital and home-care professionals makes Bumrungrad a world leader in healthcare delivery.

Healthcare institutions and providers deal with a large number of patients with different medical conditions daily. The effective management of activities ranging from   financial to clinical, helps  increase their profitability and performance.

New Zealand company HSA Global’s vision for integrated care focuses on patients who are the most frequent, intensive and costly users of healthcare. The company focuses on patient-centric shared care management tools supported by redesign services to enable seamless care delivery that improves quality and removes duplication. 

HSA Global’s software platform has been localised to fit the Singaporean health ecosystem and supports projects optimising the 'continuum of care' and 'virtual ward' concepts. This enables collaboration between the hospital, SOC, polyclinic, CHC, FMC, nursing home, home care service and the patient’s home and family support.

Cortell Health, another New Zealand company, has been working with medical providers in Malaysia and Thailand to provide business intelligence solutions that assess hospital performance and identify areas of improvement   helping to lower costs and better service.

The company currently supports Bangkok Hospital in planning, budgeting, costing, reporting and patient intelligence solutions. This, not only keeps the hospital humming, but also allows people to access high-quality medical care, through accurate diagnosis. Cortell’s solutions can be easily integrated into remote and rural areas with limited resources and little access to  medical expertise Cortell Health has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Meridian Health that will see the use of their systems implemented across Malaysia. 

Not only does this help hospitals to  efficiently treat patients attracting more medical tourists, but it also provides data that assesses a hospital’s profitability and performance, which is essential to growth.

Cortell’s technology will essentially help Malaysian medical providers compete with their Singapore and Thai counterparts   in understanding what  needs to be done to deliver high  quality service to patients, whilst remaining as cost-effective as possible.


In developing Asian countries, the improvement of healthcare lies in providing solutions that are affordable, simple to use and easily available.

Two New Zealand doctors recognised this need and created a diagnostic platform that can be used in developing and poor nations.

Scientists Dr. Sarita and Anand Kumble are the duo behind another New Zealand success story Pictor, which provides an immunodiagnostic solution that can be rolled out in underdeveloped areas with higher rates of disease. Their simple and affordable diagnostic tool, PictArrays can test for five of the major killers of infants—Toxoplasma, Rubella, Cytomegalovirus and Herpes Simplex Virus 1–from just one drop of blood.

The product is going to be rolled out in Thailand and Malaysia.   

Asia and New Zealand partnerships

New Zealand has also been partnering with scientists in Asia to develop innovative solutions for the healthcare industry. In Singapore, scientists from the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences are working together with New Zealand’s AgResearch and the University of Auckland to research methods that optimise nutrition for mothers and children, and understand developmental pathways to non-communicable diseases. New Zealand is also researching preventive measures for chronic diseases that plague many Asians, such as diabetes, which has escalating rates in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.   

From record keeping to prescribing medication and providing access to online health records, New Zealand has a long history of implementing healthcare IT.

With experience in innovating healthcare IT systems and solutions for leading healthcare providers and its association with governmental bodies, New Zealand is well placed to partner with developing Asia to meet growing healthcare needs.

-- Issue 31 --

Author Bio

Tony Robinson

Tony Robinson is New Zealand's Trade Commissioner to Singapore, appointed in July 2013. Before joining NZTE, Tony established, grew and eventually sold a healthcare company. He has lived and worked in New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) marketing roles with the New Zealand Dairy Board and Heinz Watties. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Administration (BCA) from Victoria University of Wellington.