“While the government’s responsibility is to ensure access to affordable high quality care to citizens, this is best achieved when public and private sectors work in tandem, and not in isolation,” YB Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, the Minister of Health of Malaysia, said yesterday.

At the opening plenary of Hospital Management Asia in Hanoi, Vietnam, the Malaysian health minister shared his plans to “introduce global best practices” to help establish value-based healthcare services within the private healthcare sector.

Much has been done by private healthcare associations to help remove “unnecessary regulatory burden” from private hospitals, said Dr Dzulkefly. But Malaysia still needs “concrete private sector regulatory reform” that encompasses every aspect of the ecosystem, going beyond technological regulations and digitisation, he noted.

The end goal is to build healthcare services that are patient-centric and based on international best practices, he continued: “Particularly over the issues of patient safety goals and patients’ expectations, and hopefully to enhance patient experience.” Dr Dzulkefly hopes to do this by laying down “the regulatory groundwork for an enabling environment” that would allow private and public healthcare institutions to work together on a “common operational platform”.

Besides his focus on the private healthcare sector, the Malaysian health minister proposed two other pillars of reform: transforming public healthcare delivery and healthcare financing. He hopes to give citizens “a choice and value of both public and private” healthcare services, and eventually dispel the “negative perception” of private healthcare providers “being essentially profit-driven”.

Healthcare is a “macro critical economic social and political opportunity” for governments everywhere, and certainly forms “a significant and growing part of our Malaysian economy”, Dr Dzulkefly pointed out.

Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have recognised how public investment in healthcare and education often lead to reduced inequality in opportunities and income, he explained, and increased resilience of low-income households to economic shock. But “neglect of this sector poses a risk now and in the future,” he concluded.

He was speaking on a panel alongside the Minister of Health for Vietnam, Madam Prof Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, and Dr Kidong Park, the World Health Organisation Representative in Vietnam. It was moderated by Prof Anupam Sibal, Group Medical Director and Senior Pediatrician at Apollo Hospitals Group in India.

The Vietnamese health minister also outlined areas of healthcare reform, including an emphasis on public-private partnerships. In Vietnam, the healthcare landscape is dominated by public hospitals, which are often overcrowded and attract criticism in the media, Madam Prof Nguyen explained. “I always see complaints in newspapers, social media, especially about hospitals. So we try to reform our systems,” she said.

The next steps include strengthening primary healthcare, community healthcare and becoming more patient-centric, according to her. “Hospitals must be clean, green and familiar,” she declared.

On a broader level, “the healthcare industry, particularly in Asia, is facing many changes that have been challenging to healthcare providers across the region,” said Clarion Events Asia Managing Director Richard Ireland in his opening speech. Hospitals need to adapt, innovate and think ahead to keep up with patients’ expectations, shifting government regulations, and constant disruption, he remarked.

Hospital Management Asia 2019, the annual event for Asian healthcare leaders, launched yesterday at the National Convention Centre of Vietnam in Hanoi. Over 1,200 hospital management and healthcare professionals from around the Asia Pacific region gathered to exchange ideas and insights on evolving business models, innovative technologies and how to improve management of healthcare systems.

The Asian Hospital Management Awards will be held tonight at the same venue to recognise and honour hospitals in the Asia Pacific that implement best practices.