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Digital Transformation in the Healthcare Field in Vietnam

Updated: Apr 3

Digital transformation in healthcare is currently a global trend, bringing significant benefits to nations. It improves healthcare quality, saves time and costs, enhances efficiency in diagnosis and treatment, and synchronizes health information. Notably, the Vietnamese government is actively advancing the digital transformation process within its healthcare system to better serve citizens. The demand for technology applications in healthcare management and specialized services is crucial. Moreover, Vietnam, with its unique advantages, is well-positioned to successfully implement digital healthcare solutions. In-depth research analyzing Vietnam’s healthcare landscape and drawing lessons from global experiences aims to identify effective strategies and recommendations for policymakers to successfully navigate this digital transformation era and meet the growing needs of the population.

The Current State of Digital Transformation in Healthcare in Vietnam

Developing healthcare is one of Vietnam’s top priorities. Expenditure in this sector is expected to increase from $15.6 billion USD, accounting for 6.5% of GDP in 2018, to $42.9 billion USD by 2028. This growth rate corresponds to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11% over the next decade. Vietnam stands out as one of the countries with the highest healthcare spending in the ASEAN region. Furthermore, the average per capita healthcare expenditure is projected to triple from $161 per year in 2018 to $408 per year by 2028. Additionally, Vietnam possesses several advantages for implementing digital health solutions.

First, over 60% of Vietnamese people under 54 years old rapidly adopt new information technology. On average, Vietnamese citizens spend seven hours per day engaged in online activities, with three hours on mobile devices.

Second, the Vietnamese government has enacted policies to build infrastructure and develop information technology and communication services. As of 2017, internet access is widespread across the country, with a 67% usage rate and an annual growth rate of 28% (Hootsuite, 2018). Mobile information technology is also rapidly advancing, with 4G coverage extending to over 95% of households.

Third, Vietnam’s technology infrastructure is shifting toward cloud-based services, creating opportunities for innovative and cost-effective healthcare solutions. These factors provide a solid foundation for the digital transformation of healthcare services in Vietnam.

Challenges Impacting the Digital Transformation in Healthcare in Vietnam

Despite progress, several challenges persist in the digital transformation of healthcare in Vietnam. Patients in Vietnam face various issues related to accessibility, quality, and overall care experience. These challenges include: Overcrowded hospitals lead to long waiting times for patients. The shortage of skilled healthcare professionals and hospital beds further exacerbates the situation. In 2018, Vietnam had only 2.9 hospital beds and 0.8 physicians per 1,000 people, lower than the OECD average of 4.7 beds and 3.3 physicians. Additionally, 65% of Vietnam’s population resides in rural areas, often traveling to urban centers for healthcare. Prolonged travel and waiting times result in brief consultations, and doctors may not have access to patients’ complete medical records.

Lack of trust in digital health information remains a significant barrier. Older patients, in particular, question the reliability of information provided on healthcare platforms. Data security and ownership are also concerns. Given the sensitivity of health data, patients want assurance about how their information is collected, processed, and analyzed by service providers and third parties.

Digitalization efforts in Vietnamese hospitals are currently fragmented and primarily focus on central government hospitals and private hospitals in major cities. Smaller healthcare facilities with limited financial and technical capabilities exhibit lower readiness and acceptance of e-health applications. While diagnostic imaging, blood tests, oncology, and surgery departments have adopted digital solutions, interdepartmental system integration remains limited. Doctors and nurses sometimes struggle to access patient records stored in other departments.

In summary, digital transformation involves not only technology adoption but also comprehensive and profound reforms to maximize the potential of modern advancements. Despite facing financial constraints, Vietnam’s healthcare system is in its early development stage. By learning from other countries’ experiences, Vietnam can lead in digital healthcare and create a strong foundation for long-term progress.

Bluezone is one of the technology applications serving Covid-19 prevention and control in Vietnam.

Healthcare has always been a top priority for governments worldwide. Currently, digital transformation in healthcare is a global trend, offering significant benefits to nations by improving healthcare quality, saving time, reducing costs, and enhancing efficiency in diagnosis and treatment. Vietnam is no exception to this trend. Prime Ministerial Decision 749/QD-TTg, issued on June 3, 2020, approved the “National Digital Transformation Program until 2025, with a vision to 2030.” Healthcare is a top priority among the eight sectors targeted for immediate digital transformation, specifically identified as “an area with rapid societal impact, daily relevance to citizens, perceptible changes, cost savings, and a need for prioritized digitization”. In practice, the Ministry of Health is currently focusing on three programs (Decision 5316/QD-BYT): (1) Building Electronic Healthcare Infrastructure; (2) Electronic Medical Records; and (3) Unified Online Healthcare Services.

Proposed Solutions

Analyzing the current state of digital transformation in Vietnamese healthcare and drawing from prominent global experiences, three critical factors should be considered during the process:

  • Quality – Ensuring effective healthcare and enhancing patient experience;

  • Access – Creating conditions for all citizens to access healthcare services and benefit; and

  • Efficiency – Improving quality and accessibility must go hand in hand with cost reduction for citizens’ healthcare.

To achieve these goals, the digital transformation process in healthcare should follow five steps.

  • Step 1, begin by identifying goals and immediate priorities, and call for investments.

  • Step 2, enhance data information systems. Data for a digital healthcare system must meet four criteria: Relevance, Actionability, Availability, and Interoperability.

  • Step3, stay updated with technology trends. Combining high-quality data with suitable algorithms enhances efficiency in healthcare services, management, and reduces human errors.

  • Step 4, ensure data security. Healthcare information systems must be closely monitored by responsible manager; Clear regulations on data usage, continuous training for information management personnel, and data safety are essential; Personal information must not be compromised.

  • Step 5, equip healthcare staff and relevant users with technology skills.

Based on this foundation, specific implementation options include:

Build an Information System and Digitize Healthcare Data

All existing healthcare data from the past until now needs to be digitized according to a well-defined plan and stored in a soft information system. Internal healthcare documents should be stored on a system accessible to all personnel within the healthcare sector. Information that can be publicly disclosed should be made available on healthcare portals for citizens to access.

Developing Information Technology Applications for Disease Prevention and Treatment

Ensuring robust healthcare information technology infrastructure is crucial. This involves implementing information security monitoring systems and upgrading IT systems at all levels. Once the system is capable, nationwide electronic health records should be deployed. Collaboration between the government, technology development companies, healthcare professionals, and citizens is essential for building an effective patient information system. This ensures technical feasibility while meeting the practical needs of doctors and patients. Early coordination among stakeholders is critical to avoid costly adjustments later.

Enhancing Accessibility

Healthcare portals and electronic health record software should be widely promoted among citizens. Encourage participation through incentive programs and awareness campaigns. For remote and rural areas, healthcare personnel and government officials should organize informative sessions to guide people on using these systems.

Securing Personal Health Information

Given the sensitivity of health data, patients are rightfully concerned about how their information is collected, processed, and analyzed. Ensuring data security and building trust are crucial. Only then can we persuade citizens to actively participate in the system.

Establishing Robust Legal Frameworks

A unified legal framework must be developed, involving various ministries, departments, and agencies responsible for healthcare technology applications. These include the Ministry of Health, the Information Technology Department, the Planning and Finance Division, the Preventive Health Department, the Healthcare Management Division, the Science and Technology Department, and local health departments. The Ministry of Health plays a pivotal role, continuously monitoring and intervening in project status to address any issues promptly. With such coordinated efforts, Vietnam can successfully transition to a digital healthcare system, ultimately improving the health and quality of life for its citizens.

See more research articles on Digital Transformation in the healthcare sector in Vietnam here.

Listen to the podcast article here.

Author group: Dr. Vo Tat Thang, Tran Thi Phu Duyen, Nguyen Thi Hong Ngoc, Nguyen Minh Huong, Lam Dang Song Nguyen, Health & Agricultural Policy Research Institute, School of Economics, College of Economics, Law and Government.

This is an article in the series of articles spreading research and applied knowledge from UEH with the message “Research Contribution For All – Nghiên Cứu Vì Cộng Đồng”, UEH respectfully invites readers to read Bản tin kiến thức KINH TẾ SỐ #34 “CHUYỂN ĐỔI SỐ CỦA DOANH NGHIỆP VỪA VÀ NHỎ (SMEs) TRONG BỐI CẢNH ĐẠI DỊCH COVID-19”.

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