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Digitalization continues to transform our world. The industries such as retail, communication, travel, entertainment – began to move boldly down this path a full quarter-century ago. The healthcare sector was, however, slower due to the financial, regulation framework, cultural, and technological reasons. But now, digital healthcare is rapidly catching up.  

The enormous potential is seen for healthcare and digital healthcare in Vietnam 

Medical technology is advancing at a remarkable pace: everything from smart wearables to extraordinary leaps in fields like robotic surgery is making digital processes easier, safer, and more affordable. Patients are increasingly expecting convenience and higher-quality medical treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic immediately made digitalization a top-of-mind issue at every level of the healthcare sector, both as a strategy to remain viable during the crisis and just because of health concerns, i.e., mitigating the risks of exposure to a deadly and unknown virus. The digital healthcare transformation is proceeding at a brisk pace. Prior to the pandemic, digitalization was already well underway, and COVID-19 has accelerated this trend further.  

The digital healthcare sector in Vietnam also has a lot of potential due to the demographic and socioeconomic changes currently underway. The COVID-19 outbreak dampened economic activity in Vietnam, but it is unlikely to reverse ongoing socioeconomic changes and proven that health always is the top priority and concern for both the Vietnamese people and the government. Vietnam’s rapid economic development has boosted demand for higher quality and specialized healthcare services, especially among the growing middle class. Moreover, growing concerns over food safety, pollution, and unsafe living and working conditions have also made people more willing to spend on medicines and healthcare. 

Telecommunication infrastructure has grown significantly over the past five years across both the internet and mobile sectors. Vietnam has high rates of penetration of both mobile phones and smartphones and continuing to grow rapidly. Vietnam’s Government has issued policies to build up the country’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and to support the development of ICT services. As a result, internet access is widespread and among the highest in the region. In addition, Vietnam has seen rapid development in mobile communications technologies, with 95% covering of 4G networks so far today and 5G networks recently.  

On June 22, 2020, The Ministry of Health (the Moh) approved a five-year project on remote medical examination and treatment involving 24 hospitals. Apps and medical services will be developed to manage files and knowledge systems, as well as helping patients find medical information, make their appointments, and consult doctors. These measures will accelerate the digitalization across Vietnam’s hospital network, which is currently mainly implemented in central-level public hospitals and private hospitals in major cities.  

Digitalization is transforming Vietnam’s healthcare system

Digital healthcare ecosystem 

Vietnam is now laying the foundation for the digital healthcare industry that includes disease prevention, medical examinations and treatment, and health management. Currently, these areas are in the initial stages of development. Most of the healthcare facilities in Vietnam still use paper for medical records for patients and disease tracking. Meanwhile, telemedicine solutions remain under a “pilot phase,” and the application of AI and Big Data in the healthcare sector remains limited.  

Even though digital health remains in its initial stages in Vietnam, it has attracted the support of the government and the participation of associated organizations, private entities in various sectors like telecommunications, information technology (IT), and insurance. This creates a cooperative ecosystem between the government and private players that will drive innovation and develop the sector. The Moh has set out targets to digitize the healthcare sector, including gradually build a smart healthcare and prevention system, using electronic medical records and electronic payments, and strengthening the application of information technology in health management. Notable local conglomerates include FPT, VNPT, and Viettel, which are leading telecommunications firms in the country also participating in the digital health space by offering solutions such as teleconsultation application, clinical decision-support systems, online appointment-booking systems etc.  

Digital health solutions have also been well-received by hospitals through improved operations management and data storage. Healthcare digitalization continues to facilitate the enhancement of operational efficiency and medical outcomes in public hospitals. Notably, more than 92% of public hospitals have outsourced to local IT companies such as FPT, Link Toan Cau, Dang Quang and OneNet to develop digital solutions for their facilities. Compared to public hospitals, private facilities in Vietnam have more advanced health management systems. Large hospital chains such as Hoan My, and Vinmec Hospital have upgraded their digital infrastructure to manage their branches. Furthermore, in order to provide the best services, many foreign-invested hospitals are focusing on investing in digital platforms.  

Next part, we will have look at which start-ups in digital health are doing an excellent job in Vietnam, and what lessons do they have to offer other firms who are either considering a venture in Vietnam or are looking to expand what they do before? 

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