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Innovation and Technology: The Way Forward for Healthcare

With the rise of paradigm shifting healthcare challenges and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare systems need to embrace new technologies to boost efficiency and improve quality of care for its patients. In this article APBN interviewed Fabrice Leguet, Managing Director and President, Southeast Asia for Siemens Healthineers to understand the technology gaps in healthcare as well as how Siemens Healthineers is helping to bridge these gaps.

1. Why is innovation important for healthcare systems to continue providing quality to its patients?

Only innovation can help resolve the numerous challenges that healthcare systems are facing today.

There is an overall increase in life expectancy that is in tandem with the rise in non-communicable diseases, while communicable diseases continue to pose a threat, as we witnessed in 2020, by way of COVID-19. Rising healthcare costs along with increasing shortage of qualified staff, is unsustainable for most economies. Developing countries are facing the additional hurdle of expanding the healthcare coverage to a large part of the population. So, the challenge of providing accessible and affordable healthcare is immense and the traditional methods of working will not support the healthcare systems to survive.

Transformation of care delivery is necessary to overcome these challenges and innovation is key here. Innovation needs to be technology focused, but also should be extended in the areas of delivery, business and payment models, training of human resources, and skill management. Healthcare is a long-term business and it is essential that we invest in these areas for the future.

Continuous R&D to introduce technological innovations is critical not only to provide high quality healthcare, but also to make it affordable and accessible to patients. We believe that MedTech providers like us create value for people and societies through innovations that address the various challenges mentioned above. Healthcare providers in Asia today are already embracing innovations like digitalization, artificial intelligence, as well as merged technologies like molecular imaging with MRI, robotics. Which have shown results in effectively tackling these challenges.

Medical technology is a fast-changing, highly competitive and at the same time highly regulated market segment. The ability to listen to the healthcare providers and turn their pain points and requests into safe, cost efficient and innovative solutions is key. This is what we do at Siemens Healthineers, where our purpose is to drive innovation to help humans live healthier and longer. This ambition is deeply rooted in our corporate DNA.


2. What are the current technology gaps in healthcare in relation to diagnosis and treatment in the Asia Pacific region?

Technology gaps and needs depend a lot on the healthcare landscape of each country.

Singapore, for instance, already has a robust healthcare infrastructure, but is facing a massive challenge of ageing population. To address this, under its Smart Nation Initiative, the country is looking at implementing concepts like “Population Health” and leveraging advanced technologies like robotics, telehealth and AI to maximize outcomes and optimize costs.

Countries like Philippines and Indonesia are focusing on Universal Healthcare coverage for its huge, widespread population, which has limited access to care. Consequently, massive efforts and investments are still required to build basic diagnosis and treatment facilities in many geographies of these countries.

The common factor in both examples is the need for innovation that supports a value-based healthcare (VBHC) approach. VBHC starts with identifying and understanding a segment of patients whose health and related circumstances create a consistent set of needs. The related circumstances involve social determinants or disparities of health, where socially disadvantaged population is considered. This approach can enable providers to care for more patients with a defined budget, thereby addressing health disparities and achieving better health outcomes for the patients.

While VBHC principles shall be universally followed, the priorities to drive patient value will vary substantially depending on the patient segment or geographies. It’s not “one size fits all”. Simply put, in developing countries, access and affordability are key. Siemens Healthineers contributes by providing technologies and expertise that healthcare providers can bring to remote areas and by optimizing the costs of care to make it affordable to everyone. A classic example is of our syngo Virtual Cockpit software platform used for remote scanning assistance that makes expert technologist knowledge available to every healthcare facility. Highly qualified staff are hard to come by and are a relevant cost factor. In addition, some procedures are simply less common than others. This leads to a situation in which some technologists are unable to perform all examinations confidently or with the same efficiency. The syngo Virtual Cockpit with its remote scanning ability plays a significant role in such situations.

In case of mature healthcare systems, continuous patient engagement and productivity of healthcare professionals drives attention. For example, our digital solutions connect clinicians to patient health data across the clinical network. One of our solutions, teamplay myCare Companion, effectively connects care teams and patients, supports information sharing and promotes constant patient engagement in their own health. Through a web-based platform, providers and patients share relevant and actionable health information.


3. In what ways will the recent technology launch by Siemens Healthineers help to bridge these technology gaps?

Siemens Healthineers mission is to enable healthcare providers to increase value by expanding precision medicine, transforming care delivery, improving patient experience, and digitalizing healthcare. Our medical imaging, laboratory diagnostics, and point-of care testing products help physicians to carry out screening to arrive at the right diagnosis and perform the right treatment.

Besides syngo Virtual Cockpit and teamplay myCare Companion, our family of AI-powered, cloud-based augmented workflow solutions can analyse data beyond human capacity and transform it into actionable knowledge. High-quality data is fundamental to automate large parts of complex diagnostics and support optimal treatment, further improving the outcomes and the operational efficiencies of hospitals and clinics. One such example is AI-Rad Companion that helps technicians reduce the burden of basic repetitive tasks and improve precision, when interpreting medical images.

At the recently held Radiology Society of North America (RSNA) event, we launched MAGNETOM Free.Max MRI system, the world’s first 80 centimetres bore MRI, making the experience more comfortable for patients. It can be installed in places that used to be impossible for MRI machines. At just over three metric tons in weight and below two meters in transportation height, the machine is the most lightweight and compact whole-body scanner Siemens Healthineers has ever built. We developed a new magnet for this purpose using DryCool technology, which requires less than one litre of liquid helium for cooling and no quench pipe. Such machines used to require several hundred litres of helium and a costly quench pipe.

We also launched syngo Carbon, a new software environment for enterprise-wide image reading and reporting, assuring easy access to all relevant data generated in the processes of imaging and reporting. Data from different departments is drawn out from various silos and integrated as part of a unified environment, including diagnostics and assessment, simplifying workflows, making it easier for different areas to work together. Examples include images from pathology, endoscopy, and cardiology, and information generated as part of a longer process, for example, camera images from surgery to document the condition of a wound.

One of the offerings of Siemens Healthineers, especially towards VBHC is Value Partnerships, focusing on enduring, performance-oriented relationships. In Asia, we see multi-national hospital groups, commercial laboratories, as well as financial investors investing in the industry to uplift the healthcare standards. Existing healthcare providers are also looking for innovative business models to increase enterprise-wide value to meet both their immediate and future goals. Moreover, there exists a true opportunity for Southeast Asia to leapfrog in the future of healthcare and do much better than many mature economies.

This is where our Value Partnerships portfolio comes into the picture. Our consultants support projects’ feasibility study, planning, implementation and continuous improvement. We then join forces with a network of preferred partners like construction companies, purchasing groups and financing bodies such as Siemens Financial Services (SFS) – either via Special Purpose Vehicles or consortia.


4. How will these new healthcare technologies by Siemens Healthineers reach out to key areas in Asia? What are the company’s efforts in providing technology for the diagnosis of COVID-19?

With over 120 years of experience, 18,500 patents, patent applications, and utility models globally and over 53,000 employees in more than 70 countries, we are combining the strength of our people, the knowledge, and portfolio to continue to innovate and shape the future of healthcare. In Asia Pacific we are more than 7,000 employees with manufacturing and R&D centres in China, India, Japan and Korea. In South East Asia – the most diverse region within Asia Pacific, we have 900 employees based in seven countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. While we have a strong Sales and Service organization in all these countries, our reach is further amplified in this region with the support of our business partners, especially in Brunei, Laos and Cambodia.

I would like to give couple of examples of making healthcare accessible in Thailand and Philippines with the help of our business partners. Phetchabun Province lies in the lower northern region of Thailand and it’s a mountainous belt. It is 346 kilometres from Bangkok and because of the geographical challenges, the fastest mode of transport is a 5.5-hour journey by road. The province lacked an MRI scanner until last year, when we installed our MAGNETOM Sempra, 1.5 T MRI Scanner. In the past, locals travelled to the neighbouring province of Phitsanulok, almost 2-2.5 hours by road, to reach the nearest MRI scanner. To beat a queue that starts at 6 a.m., a patient had to leave his/her home at 3 a.m. MAGNETOM Sempra is installed on a pay per use model, which means, it is operated by our business partner at the scanning centre located in the premises of Phetchabun Hospital and is available to all other hospitals and they are charged per case. With this business model, we not only resolved the access to care issue for the people, but also resolved the financial constraint of the main Phetchabun Hospital in investing in an MRI scanner.

A similar example is from Basco, Batanes in the Philippines, which is the smallest, remote island in the northernmost province of the country, with limited access to quality care. There is no practicing radiologist and patients travel to other provinces or cities by sea or air. With the support from our business partner, we installed SOMATOM go.Up, CT scanner – the first CT scanner of the province at the Batanes General Hospital. In the absence of a radiologist, Teleradiology solution was made available, which can be operated by radiology technicians from afar.

In view of COVID-19, Siemens Healthineers is committed to support front-line healthcare professionals and help them to deliver high-value critical care to patients at each stage of COVID-19 disease management: diagnosis, prognosis, therapy and follow-up. While we launched PCR and antibody tests, our existing portfolio played a critical role in managing COVID-19 situations. On an immediate basis, we provided recommendations on how to disinfect equipment to the healthcare providers.

Our response to COVID-19 included:

Rapid antigen testing for the detection of SARS-CoV-2: As society continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a critical public health need to get ahead of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with a fast and simple test for all. The CLINITEST Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Test is a point-of-care cassette test that does not require central laboratory analysers and hence eliminates transport delays and associated costs. It delivers results in 15 minutes.

Total antibody test: Siemens Healthineers launched its laboratory-based total antibody test to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 IgM and IgG antibodies in blood. The total antibody test allows for identification of patients who have developed an adaptive immune response, which indicates recent infection or prior exposure.

Real-time PCR helps identify RNA from SARS-CoV-2: The new FTD SARS-CoV-2 real time PCR Assay is available for molecular laboratories. A dual-target design for SARS-CoV-2 identification provides assay robustness and optimal sensitivity, specificity, and inclusivity.

Blood gas systems to manage ventilated patients under respiratory distress: The RAPIDPoint® 500e Blood Gas System and epoc® Blood Analysis System are essential analysers supporting COVID-19 response efforts, where blood gas testing plays a critical role in managing infected patients and monitoring their respiratory distress. The analysers integrate seamlessly into hospital networks with the Point of Care Ecosystem™, which offers remote management of operators and devices.

Monitoring and triaging of pneumonia with mobile radiography: Mobile radiography systems help with the monitoring of disease progression in particularly severe cases. The devices can be driven directly to patients in the intensive care unit, for example, eliminating the need for patients to be transported through the hospital. MOBILETT Elara Max offers improved hygienic conditions thanks to antimicrobial coating, fully integrated cables, and smooth and closed surfaces.

Computed Tomography (CT) images used in evaluation of infectious disease: High resolution chest CT images help assess the severity of the lung involvement in COVID-19 patients, especially those with severe symptoms. This includes evaluation of the progression and remission of the disease. The innovative mobile CT workflow of SOMATOM go. platform scanners permit technologists to maintain a distance of at least 1.5 m (5 ft) from potentially infected patients. These scanners can also be installed in mobile units to provide access in high-demand or in isolated areas.

Rapid Activation Management Consulting Services: The COVID-19 pandemic shapes unexpected situation, in which the ability to respond rapidly is crucial. In some cases, healthcare providers may not have the necessary capacity and means to quickly plan and activate processes required to address the current public health emergency. Rapid Activation Management Consulting Services enable healthcare providers to address the immediate needs to manage increased demand, patient workflows, support financial repositioning, and set up new facilities or repurpose existing ones.

Digitalization: Lockdown and travel ban resulted in various challenges for the industry, wherein expert knowledge was not available, hands-on training and workshops to technicians was affected and large product installations were on a standstill. However, our digital solutions portfolio played a significant role in overcoming these challenges. For example:

  • syngo Virtual Cockpit software platform used for remote scanning assistance makes expert technologist knowledge available to every healthcare facility. Remote operations also help reduce staff exposure to infectious patients and may allow employees, who are under quarantine, to continue working.
  • AI-powered analysis of chest images has the potential to alleviate the workload of radiologists by supporting them to diagnose and evaluate diseases. The CT Pneumonia Analysis is designed to automatically identify and quantify abnormal patterns in the lung, which can be associated with COVID-19, and to compute severity measures.
  • The remote care management solution for COVID-19 remotely connects patients – for example those in quarantine – with physicians. It promptly informs physicians of the progress of potential COVID-19 symptoms, making it possible to monitor these symptoms and take appropriate action. This may help free up inpatient capacity for COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.
  • Real-time 24/7 system monitoring, proactive, remote and digital services such as our Guardian Program, teamplay Fleet or Smart Remote Services can increase the required uptime. When no access to a facility is possible, Siemens Healthineers Smart Remote Services (SRS) experts can use advanced troubleshooting tools to remotely restore operations.
  • Product installations were also possible using our merged reality technology, Smart Collaboration that enables remote, real-time and efficient collaboration with our Headquarters in Germany to execute complex product installations. [APBN]

About the Interviewee

Fabrice Leguet, Managing Director and President, Southeast Asia, Siemens Healthineers Fabrice Leguet’s passion for the subject of healthcare reflects in his career with Siemens Healthineers. He joined Siemens in 2001 under the Siemens Graduate Program – one of the training landscapes that shapes future leaders. Since then, for the past 19 years, he has held various roles between headquarters and local subsidiaries, starting in Europe and USA, followed by Asia, in Supply Chain, Customer Services, Strategy, M&A and Division and General Management. Before becoming the Managing Director of Southeast Asia, Fabrice was the Country General Manager for Vietnam for several years.

Besides his professional life, Fabrice displays equal commitment to the community as well. For instance, he has co-founded and chaired the Medical Devices Association for International Organizations with presence in Vietnam, driving intense advocacy and advisory activities to help develop a sustainable healthcare infrastructure in the country. Coming from an Engineering background, Fabrice can fluently speak English, French and German and is actively engaged in sports like sailing, mountain-biking and kitesurfing in his free time.