Last year, in a February 2017 post for the Galen Growth Asia blog, I described Vietnam as a “greenfield” for HealthTech innovation. At the time, I saw relatively few companies and organizations focused on digital solutions to Vietnam’s healthcare challenges. One year later, however, I’m noticing a lot more interest in the field. Could this mark the beginning of a HealthTech renaissance in Vietnam?
As in previous years, many of the latest initiatives are led by public sector organizations. In October 2017, for example, I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address at EpiHack 2017, a weeklong hackathon co-hosted by the Vietnam Ministry of Health and InSTEDD, an international NGO that supports the design and deployment of ICT tools for the development sector. The event convened software developers and public health professionals from around the region to brainstorm solutions for infectious disease monitoring and management. It resulted in prototypes for new technologies that could help mitigate the threat of global pandemics—a growing risk in an era of rising antibiotic resistance.
PATH, an international healthcare nonprofit that has several digital health programs in Vietnam, also reported progress in 2017. It announced that two of these programs—one to boost immunization rates and another to help manage MDR-TB patients—had graduated from small-scale pilots to become government-led national programs. This came amid other reports that the Vietnam government is working to upgrade the country’s healthcare information architecture. I don’t currently have any inside perspective on how these various initiatives are unfolding, but they certainly sound like steps in the right direction.
On the private sector side, I noticed progress at many of the companies that I’ve been following since I started covering Vietnam’s HealthTech space back in 2014. One example is mClinica, which recently completed the Vietnam launch of SwipeRx, a pharmacist professional network that already has 60,000 members across Southeast Asia (disclosure: I worked at mClinica from 2014 to 2016). mClinica’s Vietnam operations are now being managed by Beth Lopez, an American with four years of experience doing public health work in in Cambodia, and who recently returned to Asia after completing an MPH from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Public and private sector organizations with an interest in deploying programs through mClinica’s pharmacy networks should contact her for more information.
Another company that came across my radar was VieVie Healthcare, a telemedicine and online patient engagement platform that was launched in 2017 with the backing of Clermont Group, a Singapore-based private investment group with significant healthcare assets across Southeast Asia. Clermont owns Hoan My Medical Corporation, a major Vietnamese provider network with 13 hospitals and 5 clinics, and the relationship should give VieVie a competitive advantage in the market. I generally believe that tie-ups with providers are essential for the success of most HealthTech initiatives. Healthcare systems everywhere may be going digital, but just as in the retail and education sectors, the most promising businesses will be built around integrated online-to-offline models.
Amid this general uptick of HealthTech activity by public health organizations and early-stage companies, I have not seen as much activity from global MNCs. One exception is Microsoft, which recently launched a Microsoft Health Innovation Lab in Ho Chi Minh City. According to media reports, the Lab partnered with CLAS Healthcare, a Vietnamese firm that provides an array of IT products for healthcare facilities management, in order to develop new applications for local providers using the Microsoft Bot Framework. The reports indicated that these applications achieved good results in a pilot at the Hue Family Medical Center in Central Vietnam, and are now being rolled out in other locations.
As for me, I’m still based in Vietnam, but I’m no longer operationally involved in any local companies. After focusing almost exclusively on the country from 2014 to 2016, I shifted my attention in early 2017 to other Asia markets. I wanted to broaden my perspective to make sure that I wasn’t missing out on macro themes and opportunities in the region, so I spent the majority of my time on consulting engagements with three Singapore-based clients, including a multinational biotech company, an Asia-focused medtech trade association, and a research institute at NUS. None had anything more than a passing interest in Vietnam, which tends to be a relatively low priority for most regional executives. Larger and more advanced markets like China and Japan often get a lot more attention.
Still, Vietnam is a country with many charms and significant growth potential, and as more healthcare companies and organizations wake up to the opportunity, I expect to see more HealthTech initiatives in the coming years. For my part, I’m currently planning to put together an event with Galen Growth Asia in March for those with an interest in these opportunities. I’m not thinking of anything fancy—just a small get-together on a weekday evening with a few short talks and a few hours of drinks, snacks, and networking. If that sounds interesting, contact me and I’ll provide more details.
Will Greene runs Tigermine, a consultancy that provides marketing and business development services for science and technology organizations in Asia. He serves as the Vietnam Country Ambassador for Galen Growth Asia.