By Kwanchai Rungfapaisarn
Given the rapid growth of the elderly population in Asean and Thailand, Philips sees high potenฌtial for expanding its role in the region’s medical and healthcare industry, said Dr Atul Gupta, the company’s chief medical officer for imageguided therapy.
“I have seen firsthand the growing elderly population in Thailand, and in fact throughout Asia. Currently, over 12 per cent of the population in the region is over 60 years old. The ageing population means that my fellow-physicians are seeing a surge in cardiovascular issues, such as heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disฌeases. The situation is similar to that in the US and Europe. Philips provides innovations to diagnose and treat patients nonsurgically, using imageguided therapy [IGT] procedures. One patient, every single second, somewhere on Earth is treated with one of Philips’ IGT solutions. This is only going to grow,” he said.
Atul cited, as an example, the surgery to open blockages in heart arteries – which traditionally requires an opening on the chest to access the heart, thus exposing the patient to infection, bleeding, and long recovery in the hospital.
“With our minimally invasive IGT procedures, smart catheters can be inserted into the body via a small incision no larger than a pencilpoint, guided to the blocked artery with our Azurion system. The patient is treated and can often go home the same or the next day. This comes with fewer risks, and a much shorter recovery period,” he added.
“I was told by a cardiac surgeon at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital that there is a oneyear backlog of patients waiting to be treated for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), with most in the late stages of development and far more complex to cure.”
The opportunity for imageguided therapy, with its hospitalisation measured in hours to days, rather than days to weeks as with surgery, will go far to help eliminate this backlog and save lives in Thailand, he said.
“At Philips we are laser-focused, working closely with leading doctors and hospitals in the research and development of new technology to improve health outcomes and reduce the cost of treatment,” said Atul.
He said a group from the Philips IGT leadership team visited hospitals in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea late last month.
“There were 130 doctors from Asean countries participating in a regional meeting held recently at the Philips APAC Centre in Singapore, for an exchange of views and knowledge. A tremendous amount of medical innovation is coming out of Asean countries these days. I have seen their remarkable devices and new technology firsthand at global medical congresses and in medical journals. But there are unique challenges in the Asean heathcare industry,” he said.
“They are seen in the treatment of diseases in the late stage of development, lengthy waiting list, a shortage of trained personnel, and the unique characteristics of the patients’ arteries. Our ambition is to work with Asean doctors and hospitals to cocreate medical devices and technologies, specifically designed for this region. Collaboration always leads to the best innovation,” said Atul.
He added that with Thailand’s propensity for the latest innovation in healthcare, the country is an important market for Philips’ new solutions.
“ On my visits to Chulabhorn Hospital and Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, two of our business partฌners, I saw topnotch services from the doctors and staff. There were also patients from other countries seeking innovative treatment. It seems the government’s efforts to promote Thailand as a “Medical Hub of Asia” is clearly working,” he noted.
In regard to business expansion in Asean, Atul said regional hospiฌtals are expanding their footprint by enlarging existing facilities and establishing new branches.
“However, there is a common refrain that the Asean healthcare industry, including Thailand, faces a shortage of doctors and staff trained in minimallyinvasive medical procedures and technology. Philips sees a big opportunity to address these issues, and to improve access to highquality healthcare service across the region. For instance, we have formed a partnership with King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital's Cardiac Center to train healthcare workers in advanced 2D and 3D cardiac imaging techniques.
“Through training, we hope to address the shortage of skilled manpower in Thailand and work with local stakeholders to grow the market. Philips’ strong belief in fostering longterm partnership with local healthcare players truly differentiates us from others,” he said.
Atul said the Thai government’s efforts to promote Thailand as a medical hub in the region has seen much progress. The growing numฌber of hospitals with worldclass medical services and the technical and medical expertise of the physicians, contributed to a sound foundation for the Thai healthcare industry. “I recently had a fascinating discussion with the esteemed cardiologist, Dr Nithi Mahanonda, who is secretary general of Bangkok’s Chulabhorn Royal Academy of Science and runs a hypermodern hospital and a medical school to train Thailand’s doctors of tomorrow.
Dr Nithi has developed a health data sciences curriculum, teaching students on topics such as artificial intelligence, to improve service and hasten hospital workflows. This is extremely forward thinking and I have not seen it in other parts of the world, including medical schools at home in the United States.
It is this type of innovativeness that will further bolster Thailand’s standing as the Asean medical hub,” said Atul.