Changes in the regulation for the health sector are needed to welcome broader use of mobile health technologies in the Philippines.
In a new independent study conducted by top Philippine law firm Quisumbing Torres and commissioned by British life insurer Pru Life UK which released the pioneering whitepaper “Mobile Digital Health in the Philippines,” it calls on the government agencies to consider regulatory reforms in the health sector to encourage broader use of mobile health technologies in the Philippines.
The study examines the readiness of the country’s regulatory framework to support mHealth, and proposes solutions on how to integrate mHealth as part of the current reforms in healthcare in the Philippines.
According to Prudential Corporation Asia Chief Health Officer Andrew Wong healthcare is a significant concern in the Philippines, considering the unequal access and high cost of healthcare, high out-of-pocket spending, and prevalence of chronic conditions Filipinos experience today.
With these health concerns comes the need to push for mHealth in the Philippines. “We see an opportunity for the country to leverage mHealth technologies to make health accessible and affordable to all,” he says in a press launch.
The term “mHealth” covers the use of applications or “apps” that are accessible through mobile wireless technology (i.e., mobile phones, tablets, laptops) for healthcare, in general. These applications cover various health services such as booking appointments with healthcare professionals (“HCPs”) online, online consultations with HCPs, electronic prescriptions of medicines (or e-prescription), navigating physical locations of hospitals and clinics, online ordering of medicines, recording and accessing patient diagnoses and information, tracking and recording daily diet and health lifestyle information, employing artificial intelligence to provide personalized health services, and accessing medical insurance products, information, and services (including filing and processing of claims).
Today, Mobile Health or mHealth applications are adopted by 83 percent of physicians in the United States and have begun to revolutionize the health practice in Southeast Asia. mHealth gives opportunities in offering accessible healthcare through mobile devices, patients seeking medical assistance can access services such as booking online consultations with professionals, receiving electronic prescriptions and more. This innovative, artificial intelligence-powered solution empowers people with a preventive health management approach.
However, mHealth still face barriers to entry in the country. The whitepaper identifies these challenges as the lack of clarity on the categorization of certain aspects of mHealth that may be subject to nationality restrictions; regulations on the practice of profession, value-added services, medical devices, and online sale of medicines; consumer protection, intellectual property; and data privacy issues.
mHealth in UHC
The recently passed Universal Healthcare Act (“UHCA”), which is seen to implement much-needed reforms in the healthcare industry in the Philippines, offers an opportunity for the use of mHealth in advancing the aims of healthcare.
The law aims to provide all Filipinos a comprehensive set of quality and cost-effective health services by mandating their membership to the National Health Insurance Program. The law also aims to adopt a unified government system in relation to health.
It also institutes several reforms such as requiring members to elect a healthcare provider of choice, requiring healthcare providers to make available the list and prices of health services offered, requiring the establishment of an incentive-based rating system to health service providers, as well as pushing for preventive healthcare and health promotion. It visualizes a future where patient records are accessible throughout the health system and the development of a health information system.
The use of mHealth can help towards achieving the mandates of the law with its ability to achieve faster and more efficient health information dissemination; track and process information to promote prevention, and make medical products and services available online and accessible to all Filipinos regardless of location.The data analytics capabilities of mHealth will also facilitate the collection and processing of patient records and health information, and help establish a comprehensive health information system in the Philippines.
The whitepaper recommends the formulation of rules and regulations that will set concrete and practical tests to determine whether the operator or provider of mHealth platforms or applications is doing business in the Philippines. It also calls on government to clarify foreign equity restrictions to ensure that mHealth operators would not be deemed as engaging in mass media, advertising, or providing value-added services as well as introduce clear guidelines that will allow mobile consultation with medical professionals and online dispensing and selling of medicines.
The issuance of a unified and harmonized set of regulations providing for the guidelines for digital health in general and mHealth platforms and applications in particular is also needed, the study suggests.
It also calls on the authority to issue specific privacy guidelines covering the organizational, physical, system, and technical aspects of mHealth applications to reduce their risk of unauthorized use, processing, or access of personal data; offer tax and other incentives for mHealth operators to introduce the innovation in the Philippines.
Aside from this, also included in the recommendation is the integration of the data gathered and processed by mHealth applications into the health information system mandated under the Universal Health Care Act.
The launch of this whitepaper also considers the timing of the ongoing legislative work on proposed eHealth measures. The health committee at the House of Representatives recently formed a technical working group tasked to consolidate several initiatives filed to develop the country’s electronic system and services.
Meanwhile, Pru Life UK President and CEO Antonio “Jumbing” de Rosas says that the commissioned study is part of Pru Life UK’s commitment in promoting health and wellness among Filipinos through innovations.
“We realize and embrace the role we can play in helping the government achieve its health goals and in implementing the Universal Health Care Law,” he says. Gelyka Dumaraos