Interview: Dr Edgardo R Cortez

How attractive is the Philippine health care market for domestic or international investment?

DR. EDGARDO R CORTEZ: A major trend that will accelerate investment in health care will be the forging of partnerships between foreign investors and local hospitals, with the former being able to deliver funds to fuel the expansion of existing local players and the acquisition of more advanced technology. This trend can also result in the development of speciality clinics run by foreign investors. The rapid and wide range of investment in health care will continue to incentivise medical professionals to practice domestically, given the lucrative opportunities, but this growth will continue to be concentrated in urban areas. In addition to increased investment, IT solutions will play an increasing role in health care. Providers will need to fast-track their adoption of IT. There have been complaints over the hindrances caused by IT solutions for medical professionals who now have to devote more time to do IT work, like electronic records, and reduce the number of hours spent on actual patient care. Nonetheless, this trend will intensify further as the industry seeks to replicate global best practices.

What role can accreditations play in raising safety standards and improving the quality of care?

CORTEZ: Patient safety must be the top priority. In the US 10 years ago, patient safety was a great concern when people realised 100,000 lives were lost annually due to medical errors. Although this figure dwarfed deaths by road accidents, which were at around 40,000 a year, there were visible initiatives to reduce the incidence of road accidents through advertisements and public announcements, while little was done to address patient safety. Over the past decade, largely driven by the World Health Organisation’s increased involvement, there has been a thrust to improve quality of service and safety in US health care, hoping to create a big impact in the reduction of mortality rates from medical errors and morbidity as well. Interestingly, after a few years of implementation of improved systems to protect patients, the changes were not significant as of yet. Maybe what we are missing is the human factor, which results in mishaps. We believe that what we should strengthen equally should be the educational component to increase awareness that these events may happen even in the best of hands. Only then can we expect to create a dent in its incidence and that the fail-safe systems we set up will be carefully implemented and taken seriously by everyone.

In the Philippines, developing a strong culture of patient safety has become a significant driver for growth and competitiveness among hospitals that have embraced it as part of their operations. We even expect the professional medical organisations to take the lead in these efforts due to pressure from the public.

How are providers crafting programmes to address changing trends in health?

CORTEZ: As a result of longer lifespans due to improved care, providers need to face the challenge of catering to a rise in degenerative illnesses. Ageing will be an increasingly major component of health care demand, and hospitals will be evaluated on how well they attend to chronic diseases caused by ageing. Additionally, the business process outsourcing industry and the characteristics of its work environment have created high demand for cardiovascular and hypertension services, leading to the establishment of more dedicated clinics for occupational health and programmes that address diabetes or other lifestyle-related diseases. The health sector needs to shift its attention from curative to preventive, but not all diseases are preventable. Addressing preventable diseases generally involves immunisation or lifestyle changes, both of which are primary preventive measures. For diseases that cannot be prevented, one performs secondary prevention, meaning early detection. As a result, there will be growth in wellness clinics and diagnostic facilities to meet this demand.