AI is transforming healthcare as we know it. In the U.S., tech giants like Google are working with hospital chains to build disease prediction models that detect potentially lethal episodes of sepsis and heart failure before they occur. In China, companies like Ping An Good Doctor and We Doctor use AI-driven chatbots to better narrow down symptoms and match patients with the ideal doctor.
But Vietnam, home to Southeast Asia’s fastest growing healthcare market and a young and tech-savvy population, AI has had little impact on healthcare so far for reasons common to many other emerging markets. This is bound to change soon.
As noted by AI expert and businessman Kai Fu Lee, ‘data is the new oil’. AI would not exist, in a practical sense, without vast oceans of accurate and easy-to-crunch data. In Vietnam most health records – from prescriptions to patient information – are kept on paper or recorded on across various fragmented IT systems. Despite massive smartphone penetration and the widespread popularity of Facebook and many other apps, particularly in the food and transport sector, Vietnam’s healthcare industry has yet to see many tech-related impacts.
Paper-driven processes make it difficult to leverage the benefits of AI. The lack of available data makes it harder for researchers to use AI to identify disease patterns and improve health management practices. Healthcare providers’ lack of access to electronic health records also harms patients through poor coordination of care as Vietnamese patients are known to undergo many short consultations with several providers. Yet the opportunity is there: with nearly 100 million increasingly connected inhabitants and a burgeoning healthcare industry, AI could create unprecedented positives in the country.
It may seem like improving data collection in order to better leverage AI-driven healthcare solutions is a lofty goal in an emerging market that has more immediate priorities. But Vietnam has made many strides in addressing the core health needs of its population. The Boston Consulting Group noted that Vietnam punches way above its weight in terms of converting wealth into well-being for its citizens – while China’s GDP per capita is about twice that of Vietnam, the two countries had nearly identical scores in levels of well-being.
While Vietnam remains a rapidly developing economy focused on lower-end manufacturing and commodity exports, senior government officials have acknowledged the need to use AI to enhance the quality of development. Startups with a focus on AI technology like Sentifi, Japan-based Cinnamon AI, and India-based Rubix AI have started to take root in the country. Training centers like Coder School and the Hanoi University of Science and Technology offer courses to students on topics in AI like machine learning. Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private company, opened an AI research institute called VinAi just this year.
The Boston Consulting Group noted that Vietnam punches way above its weight in terms of converting wealth into well-being for its citizens
Additionally, the number of trained IT workers in the country is racing to keep pace with demand. There were over 62,000 IT jobs in Vietnam this year – five times as many as there were in 2015. Continued government support for the sector in the form of foreign investment friendliness and increases in the number of trained developers will help Vietnam achieve its goal of welcoming industry 4.0 in healthcare.
The Vietnamese government recognizes the potential of advanced technologies and has pledged its support for digitalization in healthcare services. It released circular 54/2017TT-BYT, (EHRs) for all of its citizens by the end of 2019. The implementation of this circular will be a positive step in creating sources of healthcare data that could be used to train AI algorithms.
UN data shows that Vietnam has made incredible strides in improving all sorts of health metrics from infant and maternal mortality to life expectancy and even cancer care. AI could easily enhance such efforts by offering a better picture of patients’ current needs and ways to anticipate them. The country’s trend towards rapid digitization means that AI’s foray into the healthcare sector may simply be a matter of time.