Interview: Eugenio Ramos

What strategies can help tackle issues that undermine the state of public health?

EUGENIO RAMOS: The state of living conditions among some of the population generate health problems, from poor sanitary conditions to limited sex education and substance abuse. These have to be addressed in parallel with improving the current state of public health.

The country has overlooked the crucial importance of public awareness with regard to taking personal responsibility for one’s own health, as well as the role of education in the prevention of health conditions and for the optimal use of resources. The government provides health care services, and the public and private sector have to work together to strengthen prevention programmes, but individuals cannot solely rely on these. The adoption of healthier behaviours can only come with education. This is especially relevant at a time when social media acts as a vehicle for harmful ideas: with one segment of the population against vaccination, some diseases that we had considered eradicated, such as measles and polio, have returned. In addition, an overuse of antibiotics has led to certain bacteria developing a resistance, making treatments less effective and increasing the risk of new infectious diseases.

How can private and public hospitals work together to maximise the use of resources?

RAMOS: Having the best health care quality at the lowest possible cost is a goal shared by the government and private providers, thus the private sector has embraced cooperation with the public sector. For example, we have worked with PhilHealth to assist them with defining their clinical practice guidelines by focusing on evidence-based medicine that makes protocols more cost effective. A vast amount of research and new ideas from the private sector are being transferred to public health care institutions through such strategies.

Public-private partnerships can also be pivotal in using resources properly and efficiently, particularly when it comes to improving health outcomes outside of Metro Manila. Private players are opening hospitals and ambulatory clinics across the country to create a network where resources can be shared appropriately.

Where do you see potential for artificial intelligence (AI) and data analysis to enhance health care?

RAMOS: Robotics are being adopted and in some cases already handle repetitive tasks, while the integration of analytics and telemedicine is also under way. Evidence and outcome-based methods are required to optimise value added in health care, and the best way to identify these is through the appropriate use of data. The use of well-analysed data allows us to limit workforce requirements, thereby reducing unnecessary work.

Robotics, process automation and AI also help doctors improve efficiency and allocate more time to bedside care, allowing them to spend more time talking with and educating patients rather than completing paperwork. Insurance payouts were also previously handled via paperwork, and this traditional method is already being disrupted by new technologies that increase the speed and efficiency of these systems.

Which measures could help ensure there is a sufficient supply of qualified personnel to meet the needs of the health care sector?

RAMOS: Developing countries like the Philippines spend time and resources training health care professionals that ultimately practice in developed countries.

At home there is a shortage of primary care doctors and an oversupply of specialists. As a result of this imbalance, patients tend to go directly to a specialist, which leads to an inefficient use of resources. In the Philippines, in addition to this unbalance between primary care professionals and specialists, there is a shortage of nurses since many leave the country after training. An analysis of the sector’s labour force is therefore required to identify how needs should be addressed.