The DOST Balik Scientist shares the challenges and triumphs in bringing digital health solutions into practice with his research and work with the two tech start-ups.
A year into the pandemic, we’re now realizing more than ever the need for technological advancements to close the gaps in our healthcare industry created by the risk of the deadly virus abound. To aid the community in safely getting the help they need in this time of crisis, we have startups like SeeYouDoc Corp. and Pivotal Peak Digital Health Solutions, Inc. (Pivotal Peak PH) developing technological solutions for the medical industry. However, despite their earnest efforts, pushing for the actual use of their healthcare innovations in the local medical industry remains a challenging feat. DOST Balik Scientist Dr. Arnulfo “AJ” Rosario, Jr., who works as the Co-Founder and Chief Medical and Marketing Officer (CMMO) of SeeYouDoc and as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Pivotal Peak shares the challenge of making their dream of accessible Filipino healthcare a reality.
In a country where thousands of communities are unable to get the medical help they need because of distance and economic issues, digitizing the way we manage and deliver health services would widen Filipino’s access to safe and secure healthcare. Unfortunately, implementing the use of healthcare innovations, especially those developed by the academe, in the medical industry remains a struggle in the Philippines.
“The Philippines had already established an eHealth mission,” Dr. AJ pointed out. The government, through the Department of Health, had already planned to incorporate information and technology to provide quality health service for Filipinos. The initiative envisioned that IT-enabled health services, safe health information exchange, and other healthcare technologies would be available in the Philippines by 2020. “And that should be a reality we have today, but it’s still not happening,” he lamented, “It was a vision but we really need to work on it.”
Filipino innovators, scientists, and health professionals have brilliant ideas on how to improve the healthcare system, but the time it takes to get the support they need to complete the development for actual industry use takes time.
For one, Pivotal Peak, the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila’s first digital health solutions start-up, was only launched in 2020. We’re well on our way into the digital age, but even so, Dr. AJ points out, “within the digital health solutions industry, we’re just the first [to launch].”
Though they have only been officially established last year, Pivotal Peak’s flagship product, the Community Health Information Tracking System (CHITS) had already been in development since 2004. CHITS was the first-ever Electronic Medical Record (EMR) System developed in the country and UP Manila granted Pivotal Peak the exclusive license to distribute this innovation. Had it been more widely implemented across all the healthcare facilities in the country, our doctors would long have a secure, efficient, and systematized way of storing and transferring patient records.
“It has really been a challenge for the Chancellor [of UP Manila] to really put our inventions to the commercial market,” Dr. AJ reflected on the journey of the state university’s spin-off company.
Aside from the limitations in policies and available resources, the lack of experience of our health professionals with digital tools hinders the development of promising technologies. To make these plans happen, according to Dr. AJ, “you need a group of people committed to be part of it.” From research, commercializing and marketing your innovations would require you to shell out your own money to support it.
Currently, to help out, DOST has organized a number of programs that would aid in the development of the health sector. Their Balik Scientist Program, for one, is designed to send researchers overseas so they can hone their expertise and lend their learnings in the improvement of local systems. The DOST also funds select local start-ups so they can further develop and promote the widespread use of their creations.
As for our innovators, what they can really do is to commit to their work and apply for capsule programs that can help them out. “Hoping we will get funding entails as well that we will influence future policies and laws in the land — perhaps [this will also push] the government to allocate more funds,” Dr. AJ hopefully notes, believing that “if we succeed, others might follow.”
Systematizing service with Pivotal Peak
Despite the struggle of putting their work out, Pivotal Peak carries on with developing eHealth solutions that would help serve more Filipinos. Though gradual, their efforts are making an impact in improving the public health sector.
The decades-long research and development made CHITS one of the user-friendly EMR systems in the country that is compliant with both DOH and PhilHealth standards. Because it’s a digital collection of health information, CHITS can transfer patient data from one establishment or one specialist to another.
Out of the 2,500 public primary healthcare facilities in the country, at least 300 of them have been using CHITS to improve clinical workflow. This Pivotal Peak innovation has also been incorporated in healthcare technologies for various applications. RxBox, a diagnostic tool that helps health workers diagnose and treat isolated communities over the country uses the technology of CHITS to store patient data. The Mag-ina Telereferral System (MINTS), which facilitates referrals between maternity care specialists is also bundled with CHITS.
BTo widen the commercial use of CHITS, Pivotal Peak has also collaborated with SeeYouDoc. Soon, the doctors and hospitals part of the telemedicine platform will be able to securely store patient data.
Broadening access with SeeYouDoc
Another pioneering start-up in the field of eHealth in the country, SeeYouDoc hopes to also help make health more convenient for Filipinos with their healthcare innovations. Also committed to the same goal, Dr. AJ was encouraged to join the growing company as Co-Founder and CMMO.
Currently, SeeYouDoc provides an eHealth platform catering to every unit of the healthcare sector. Asian Institute of Management - Dado Banatao Incubator (AIM-DBI) THINCOHORT 2020-2021 Program, the startup has developed an app set to be a comprehensive marketplace, booking, and telehealth platform. With SeeYouDoc, patients can book consultations — both face-to-face and online — with specialized health professionals across the country. Doctors, too, can organize their clinic appointments, set up a virtual consultation service through the app, as well as send ePrescriptions to treat their patients — services that have become extremely helpful in this pandemic.
Aside from making healthcare more efficient for doctors and patients, SeeYouDoc also helps hospitals manage their departments and appointment system online. Finally, SeeYouDoc is also developing a platform to support medical societies in sharing their expertise and learnings within the field.
Collaborating for the future
As he works with both SeeYouDoc and Pivotal Peak, Dr. AJ is able to strengthen the partnership between the two start-ups, which definitely brings them closer to their goal.
For Dr. AJ, this collaboration is essential for the Philippines’ eHealth mission to succeed. “That’s how it should be, it should not just be just one company or one academic institution [working to develop the healthcare system]. We need to talk to each other and share ideas. I think that’s how a community works.”
During his experience as a Balik Scientist who honed his expertise in Public Health Informatics in the United States, Dr. AJ witnessed how the establishment of centers for excellence helped experts share ideas and brainstorm for development.
“Having people share their experiences can be a good thing. By learning some of their pains, how they develop and how they improve [their innovations] when they share it, that can be your map to really move forward,” he says.
The modernization of our healthcare system takes time and it definitely requires a lot of sacrifice from the pioneers. However, as our country is filled with skilled engineers, scientists, and health professionals, Dr. AJ believes that the future is bright. “Just like the Filipino people, we are resilient in the sense that [although we are in a challenging situation], we act as one community.” Our professionals are the foundation of our healthcare, and as long as collaboration and the sense of community is instilled, our dream of a universal healthcare system is still in sight.