Digital in Asia: Changing Consumers Lives in Health Care

It’s nothing new that the Internet has been the most prominent driver of change in our lives during the past 15 years. It has had a dramatic impact across numerous industries. One such industry I want to examine that’s truly been revolutionized by digital is health care.

The health care industry today is a trillion dollar industry, globally. And in Asia, the pharmaceutical market in particular has been growing at an annual rate of 9 percent over the past five years, sitting at $242 billion, and is expected to hit $333 billion by 2015, according to a 2013 article by Pharma Focus. The Asia-Pacific region is slated to be the single largest contributor to global pharmaceutical growth through 2015.

Technology and the increased digitization of our world has broken down barriers that in the past had prevented people from either getting the health care they deserve or simply just getting access to information that allowed them to be smarter and simply more informed around health and wellbeing.

Below I’ve outlined five key digital movements that have had a huge impact on consumers’ lives in Asia when it comes to all things health care.

Mobile Everywhere

The Asia-Pacific region has the highest mobile penetration rates globally and is well above average in terms of broadband speeds. This scale and speed allows people both in urban and rural locales to connect across devices to access important health care information. This is particularly important to seniors in certain countries who rely on their mobile device as one of their key lifeline channels.

Social media has become synonymous with mobile, and as health care brands start to get more into social (as they are starting to), this will be a big benefit for consumers who prefer mobile over desktop.

And in the app world in Asia, there has been an onslaught of new mobile apps coming out that range from crowdsourcing volunteer blood donations in the Philippines to a Singapore app that tracks the progression of scoliosis, a condition that causes abnormal lateral curvature of the spine. Simply put, mobile has connected people, provided access to critical information, and has served as a platform where app developers can create innovative medical utilities.

Doctor Google

As with other regions, using search engines in Asia is still the number one online activity that people perform. And when it comes to health care, diagnosis-driven searching is on the rise. A 2006 study by BMJ said that Google is correct in diagnosis around 58 percent of the time when searched by the public. But when searched by a doctor, this jumps to a 71 percent accuracy.

I’ve seen a big push the last couple years in Asia with health care brands taking aggressive steps in the SEO and content marketing areas, as they realize their field is more and more prone to search. Ensuring their brand content is findable and viewable across platforms is critical for them. And also making efforts to develop unique enough content that draws people in is something that is more top-of-mind among advertisers than ever before. According to a Think with Google study, 77 percent of patients used search prior to booking an appointment, therefore, having optimized and targeted content will be essential in pulling in this growing community of health care searchers.

The Shift to E-Commerce

The second half of 2014 will see Asia taking over as the leading e-commerce region globally, with China, India, and Indonesia taking the top spots. Part of the movement toward e-commerce includes health, personal care retail, and pure play pharmacies starting to sell directly online, particularly as regulations start to become more relaxed throughout Asia. In November 2012, CARiNG Pharmacy became the first local health and personal retail chain in Malaysia to take their business online, and it’s starting to see record growth in comparison to its offline store. And traditionally, Japan has been a very conservative market in terms of selling pharmaceuticals online. However, this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with the help of Rakuten, the largest e-commerce site in Japan, are both pushing hard for deregulation in order to enable online drug sales, which looks like it will happen sometime in early 2015. As Japan is the second largest economy in Asia, the deregulation and online selling of drugs will have a major impact on consumers and brands alike.

Wearable Health

This movement of wearable technology is also sweeping its way through Asia in a big way. In June, the world’s biggest maker of wearable fitness bands – San Francisco-based Fitbit – launched in China. This is an example of the surging popularity of wearable health technologies seen at the recent Mobile Asia Expo held in Shanghai. Recently, there were 88 tech companies participating at the beLaunch start-up event in downtown Seoul. A vast majority of these companies focused on health-related wearables, like FootLogger by 3L Lags, which is a sensor shoe insole that provides activity track records and other biometrics, or Wave, a climate-tracking wearable from Bitfinder.

The big question in Asia is where China, with its 1.4 billion-person population, will fit in this wearable tech movement. In the below chart, according to iiMedia Research, wearable technology sales are positioned to surge through to 2016.


Mobile, search and content, e-commerce, and wearable tech are the four key digital movements that I believe have impacted consumers’ lives in Asia within the health care industry, above and beyond anything else we have seen.

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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