Regulatory concerns and other barriers continue to hamper the rollout of mobile health or “mHealth” in the Philippines, a new study said.
The study was conducted by Philippine law firm Quisumbing Torres and commissioned by British life insurer Pru Life UK.
The study, in the form of a white paper, also calls for government agencies to consider regulatory changes in the health sector to encourage broader use of mobile health technologies in the Philippines.
The white paper titled “Mobile Digital Health in the Philippines” examined the readiness of the country’s regulatory framework to support mHealth, and proposed solutions on how to integrate mHealth as part of the current reforms in healthcare in the Philippines.
According to Alain Charles Veloso, a partner at Quisumbing Torres and one of the principal authors of the study, mHealth is defined as the “use of applications accessible through mobile wireless technology for healthcare.”
Veloso noted that there are numerous advantages of using mHealth to deliver services including online consultations, electronic prescriptions, navigating physical locations of hospitals/clinics, online ordering of medicines, recording and accessing patient diagnoses and information.
mHealth technologies also allows the tracking and recording daily health of patients, accessing of medical insurance products, and the delivery personalized health services through artificial intelligence.
However, Veloso noted that there are regulatory challenges including barriers to the entry of foreign investments related to mHealth, and a “confusing and outdated” regulatory framework that the government has.
An example of this outdated regulatory framework are rules or laws on medical devices, consumer protection, etc, that “do not contemplate digital or online technology,” Veloso said.
On the business side, Veloso added that “online and mobile practice of profession are not contemplated by current rules and regulations.”
Current foreign ownership regulations in the country mal also be a hindrance, as an online company cannot just readily offer its services in the country without a local partner, Veloso noted.
Current rules state that a foreign company should have a local partner which needs to have an ownership stake to that company.
The white paper presented recommendations for the government. One of these is the need to “formulate 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.”
Another is that there is a need to “clarify foreign equity restrictions to ensure that mHealth operators would not be deemed as engaging in mass media, advertising, or providing value-added service providers.”
There is also a need to introduce clear guidelines that will allow mobile consultation with medical professionals and online dispensing and selling of medicines.
Last, government is recommended to “issue a unified and harmonized set of regulations providing for the guidelines for digital health in general and mHealth platforms and applications in particular, and 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.”
On the business side, the government might also need to offer tax and other incentives for mHealth operators to introduce innovations in healthcare.
Pru Like UK, which commissioned the study, meanwhile emphasized the benefits of mHealth.
“With unequal access and high cost of healthcare, high out-of-pocket spending, and prevalence of chronic conditions, we see that healthcare is a significant concern in the Philippines. We, however, see an opportunity for the country to leverage mHealth technologies to make health accessible and affordable to all,” said Andrew Wong, chief health officer of Prudential Corporation Asia.
The British insurer also said it has started consultations with policy makers. The company said the launch of the 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.
“We at Pru Life UK are eager to take proactive steps to work with the public and private sectors to see this through. 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. It also aligns with our We DO Health commitment,” said Antonio de Rosas, president and CEO of Pru Life UK.