China is highly advanced when it comes to the use of information technologies in healthcare. Macau only needs to emulate the best practices across the border.
MB July 2021 Special Report | A patient hospital
The application of information technologies to the medical sector predates the COVID-19 pandemic, but it seems certain that the effects of the pandemic will accelerate the process. There are even those who guarantee that digital technologies will be increasingly present, even when the pandemic is history.
In Macau, as elsewhere, this process started a few years before COVID-19.
With the signing of the “Framework Agreement of Strategic Cooperation on Smart City Development” between the Government and the Alibaba Group in 2017, Macau gradually began to develop the smart city project.
The project received support, in April 2018, from China, which published the “Opinions of the State Council Office on promoting the development of ‘Internet + Health’”, expressly defining the main direction to be followed: medical institutions should use the Internet, big data and artificial intelligence, among other technologies, to develop intelligent health care.
In the ensuing four years several things have changed in the health sector (see text on these pages).
“Successful implementation of smart medicine can improve the health and lives of residents, and it is essential to improve mechanisms to support the elderly and address the aging population,” says lawmaker Agnes Lam, the topic’s greatest exponent in the Legislative Assembly.
Agnes Lam is particularly attentive to progress in this area in the Mainland, hoping Macau might be inspired by results being obtained on the other side of the border.
In a written enquiry sent to the Government earlier this year, the legislator points to the fact that the Chinese State has already implemented measures such as online diagnosis, electrocardiogram telediagnosis, real-time consultation of test results, the online and one-stop service for the payment of medical expenses, and the optimization of the personal health management system.
“Therefore, in the future, Macau should strive to keep up with the State’s pace of development in the field of smart medicine,” Lam says, adding that the “authorities should then provide more information on the development and evolution of smart healthcare, to facilitate awareness and support within the community.”
One of the problems the legislator points out is the need to link the health system’s databases with private medicine, highlighting the fact that “private health institutions are responsible for 80 per cent of local medical services and, therefore, are the main providers of medical care in community neighbourhoods.”
Ms Lam stresses that “data interconnection and intercommunication and cooperation in patient screening between public and private health institutions are very important,” which is why “authorities must accelerate the inclusion of more private health institutions in the electronic health record sharing system.”
One thing is certain: the population will need to rely on these new systems, and weaknesses such as those that allowed several Health Services cyber attacks in May do not help. “As Macau is moving towards building a smart city, it will be important to ensure that the city’s network operations are not disrupted,” lawmaker Mak Soi Kun recently asserted, adding that “the security measures in place in Macau may not be sufficient to deal with international hackers.”
The mask acquisition registration and stock tracking system, developed in 2020 due to the epidemic, was a major result for Macau in the area of smart medicine.
But the list of achievements goes on:
• The self-registration service for the pilot program of the Electronic Health Record Interconnection System;
• electronic health vouchers;
• mobile phone applications;
• the appointment service for external consultations via the “Single Account”;
• the creation of the Macau medical data platform.
In his reply to Ms Lam last March, the then Health Bureau director Lei Chin Ion announces that “the creation of a next generation IT management system, which focuses on electronic clinical processes in the areas of external consultation, emergency, hospitalization and medical administration, is being studied.”
Mr Lei also reveals that the second phase of the eHR Program (created to facilitate the sharing of resources between public and private health institutes in Macau and to provide adequate and appropriate health services to residents more quickly) is underway: a standard interface for uploading of data by medical institutions has been developed on the big-data platform.
The beta version of this data interface was initially made available to Kiang Wu Hospital, MUST Hospital, YinKui Hospital and Clínica dos Operários, but “after successfully passing this phase, the participation of other medical institutions will be promoted and encouraged.”
By February 2021, more than 35,000 participants had enrolled in the eHR Program, and the participating units searched more than 8,800 relevant data points.