Getting to grips with Vietnam’s digitalisation of healthcare

May 04, 2023 | 09:55
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Digital transformation is one of the healthcare sector’s priorities in the context of international integration and Industry 4.0. Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Lien Huong talked to with VIR’s Bich Thuy about the digitalisation journey, and what lies ahead.

In recent years, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has been making efforts in digital transformation, aiming to help the health sector offer remote medical examinations. What is the progress thus far?

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Lien Huong
Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Lien Huong

Implementing the guidelines and policies of the Party and state, together with the efforts of the entire health sector and the support of international friends, the application of IT for the protection and improvement of people’s health has gradually developed and initially achieved some very encouraging results.

The MoH has developed and issued many documents contributing to completing the institutional and legal environment to deploy IT application as a basis for its digital transformation. It opened a public service portal in 2019; and a year later, all of the ministry’s administrative procedures have provided online public services at Level 4.

The ministry has implemented an administrative document management system and e-mail system in the sector’s agencies, integrating it with health departments. All regulatory document management activities have now been performed online and are digitally signed.

The MoH also opened the public health portal, which is the official channel for people and businesses to look up information on prices of drug prices, medical equipment and supplies, diagnostics, medical examination and treatment, and more. It also contains information about products in circulation or recalled, results of handling administrative procedures, and violations in advertising, thus ensuring transparency and fairness in the procurement and bidding of medical equipment.

The application of IT in hospitals is also being promoted. Today, all hospitals nationwide have deployed a hospital management information system; 44 hospitals have implemented electronic health records instead of paper records; and 23 hospitals have deployed an image storage and transmission system instead of film printing.

Other advances include online medical registration application, deploying AI and robotics applications, using consulting support chatbots, and more besides.

Elsewhere, the MoH and Vietnam Social Security have successfully implemented the connection between exam and treatment facilities nationwide and its units. Up to now, 99.5 per cent of such treatment facilities across the country have connected with this assessment system.

A remote consulting system has been set up and in September 2020, the ministry held the launch of 1,000 telehealth medical facilities. Around the same time, we promoted IT application in grassroots healthcare facilities, developing unified management software on commune health facilities.

In addition, the MoH has deployed large information systems such as the Vietnam medical connection network, a national drug database system, and more, towards the country’s digital transformation efforts.

Electronic medical records (EMRs) are very much expected by people and businesses. How has the MoH specifically implemented this scheme and how effective is it?

EMRs were first prescribed in Circular No.46/2018/TT-BYT from 2018, in which it stipulates the legal value, principles, and management of such records at medical facilities, as well as the responsibilities of agencies, organisations, units, and individuals during the implementation in a clear and specific manner.

It was important to establish an EMR system for each citizen, updating health information and indicators when going for exam and treatment, and having an appropriate mechanism, roadmap, and step-by-step implementation so that all people can have their health monitored and managed. It also helps to speed up administrative reform, IT application from hospital management, health insurance assessment, and more.

The MoH has set out a roadmap for the implementation of EMRs at medical facilities; hospitals at Special Class and Class I must complete implementation by the end of 2023, and the deadline for remaining hospitals nationwide is 2028.

A number of medical facilities and health departments are interested in developing plans to deploy EMRs. Currently, there are over 40 medical facilities using them. This number is quite modest compared to the goals and roadmap set out in the circular, so the ministry is currently working on solutions to promote the implementation nationwide.

However, there are still difficulties when implementing this. In fact, many hospital directors and hospital leaders have not actively taken part in implementation, still relying on and waiting for an authorised management agency. IT infrastructure at medical facilities is also not synchronised. In order to have a complete EMRs for patients, it is necessary to have integration of different systems such as digital signatures and others. This requires hospitals to be equipped with synchronous infrastructure and related software, which requires big cost when using IT services.

Meanwhile, the standards for connection and data communication among health information systems at medical facilities have not been completed yet; the financial mechanism for the application of medtech and the implementation of EMRs in particular is not clear.

How will the healthcare sector continue its digital transformation to maintain development, as well as create new conditions for businesses to participate?

After the National Digital Transformation Programme was approved for this decade, in December 2020 the MoH promulgated the Health Digital Transformation Programme with a vision towards 2030. In it, digital technology will be applied in most activities and services of the health sector, developing a smart healthcare system with the three main pillars of smart disease prevention, smart medical examination and treatment, and smart health management.

The sector will continue to improve the legal corridor and create stronger conditions for units in the health sector to implement digital transformation.

Before 2025, the ministry will continue to promote the implementation of EMRs; using advanced medical imaging and storage systems instead of plastic; and offering remote medical treatment and cashless payments of hospital fees.

All medical treatment establishments of Grade I or higher will actively upgrade their IT systems to implement paperless services, and all people’s health data formed during exam and treatment sessions will be connected and shared with health data warehouses in accordance with laws.

In the context of development, international integration, and Industry 4.0, healthcare is a field that is greatly affected by this revolution. Increasing the quantity, quality, and fairness in accessing and using health services poses a huge task for the sector in its digital transformation and the smart health development of Vietnam in general.

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