Malaysians relying more on telehealth services

The effects of the pandemic have severely impacted the world’s economic and healthcare systems and have left a lasting impression on how Malaysians view and take care of their health. More citizens have embraced healthcare technology, taken proactive steps to maintain a healthier lifestyle, and are rethinking their budgets to prioritise financial preparedness for medical emergencies.

Malaysians are relying more on telehealth services for non-emergency health and medical queries in lieu of a physical medical appointment.  While general practitioner (GP) clinics have seen only a quarter of their usual patient load, healthcare providers have observed that people are now more receptive to digital conveniences in healthcare such as telehealth and teleconsultation services.

This is a significant shift in behaviour when compared to findings from a survey conducted by iMoney and Prudential earlier this year, before the movement control order (MCO).

The Malaysian Health Survey found that 75% of Malaysians surveyed had never used an Online Doctor Consultations (ODC) service before, and of these respondents, 69% preferred to see a doctor in person, while 22% were not aware of such a service.  In a recent study, Frost & Sullivan forecasted a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025 – a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2%.

“Although new COVID-19 cases have plateaued, easing the strain on our public healthcare system, we can expect some Malaysians to continue avoiding clinics and hospitals even after the recovery movement control order is lifted due to fears of contracting COVID-19 during their visit. We expect Malaysians to continue to turn to healthcare applications for their medical needs and for self-care. We already see shifts in both the private and public sector who are rolling out telehealth services and applications to meet this market demand,” said Ministry of Health public health physician and deputy director (non-communicable diseases) Dr. Feisul Idzwan Mustapha.

“We see a trend where digital health is moving beyond transactional telehealth consultations, to more holistic digital health solutions. An indicator of this trend is the rising interest in the Pulse by Prudential mobile application,”  said Prudential Assurance Malaysia Bhd chief customer and marketing officer Eric Wong.

He explained that Pulse is an AI-powered health and wellness application developed by Prudential that provides a variety of digital health services such as a symptom checker and health assessment, online doctor consultations, health related news and fitness tracker capabilities. Since March 2020, Pulse has seen a significant increase in both downloads (more than 470,000) and usage (monthly active users increased by twofold.

Preparing for medical emergencies

Although they avoid going to medical facilities for non-emergency cases, Malaysians are becoming more aware that they need to be prepared for medical emergencies. Before the pandemic, many Malaysians were not ready for any medical emergencies. According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019, 46% of Malaysians did not have any form of supplementary financial coverage for their healthcare needs and relied on existing tax-funded healthcare coverage. Similarly, the Malaysian Health Survey found that in the event of a medical emergency, 1 in 4 Malaysians would depend on their family and friends to help cover the medical costs.

Increasingly prioritising health and fitness

Beyond their changing perception and interaction with medical services and insurance coverage, Malaysians have become more conscious of their health and wellbeing. Since the start of the MCO, there has been a growing emphasis amongst Malaysians to kick start their fitness journey. Malaysia’s preference for home exercise has grown as they continue to practice social distancing. According to the Malaysian Health Survey, 58% of the respondents who exercise preferred to do most of their workouts at home.

“The recently published Health & Social Behaviour during Movement Control Order (MCO) following COVID-19 study by the Ministry of Health found that even though 85.5% of respondents practised a more sedentary life, a whopping 94.7% agreed that physical activity should be practised during MCO. Surprisingly, the survey also found that 88.8% of respondents felt that maintaining a healthy lifestyle helped them cope better during the MCO, ” Dr. Feisul shared.

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