The Covid-19 pandemic has forced individuals, companies and society as a whole to adapt to new ways of working and living. The shift to new types of behaviour and consumption patterns has led to a rise in telehealth services, direct-to-home medicine deliveries, remote fitness programmes, and increases in hygiene habits such as handwashing. It has also accelerated the need for digital solutions to enable millions of people living in rural areas and patients belonging to risk groups to easily and effectively access medical specialists.

Asian economies, with the exceptions of India and Indonesia, have been spared the worst of the economic impact from the pandemic. This year, Asia’s GDP will grow by 6.8 percent and projected to grow by 4.7 per cent in 2022. For comparison North America will get a boost from the massive stimulus package which is expected to create GDP growth of 6.8 per cent in 2021 and three per cent in 2022.

Swift reaction to meet evolving needs

Across the vast APAC region, governments are reacting and reforms have appeared in the fields of biotechnology, telehealth, and pharmaceuticals. For example, the Australian government is now directly funding telehealth services, which has resulted in a significant increase in uptake with more than 10 million consultations in a two-month period. Elsewhere, the Chinese and Japanese governments have, for the first time ever, given blanket approval for the reimbursement of costs related to online medical consultations and medical insurance pay outs.

Increasing the pace of innovation will be a driving force behind the post-Covid-19 economic recovery in the Asia-Pacific region. As a result, multiple opportunities are emerging for Swedish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to enter the market with digital-first solutions and smart technologies.

  • Telehealth/telemedicine can help minimise infection risks in the short-term and increase efficiency and provide access to essential services for traditionally underserved rural populations in the long-term. Telemedicine has been particularly helpful in India as a way of reducing the burden on the tertiary hospitals and create scale via patient screening. This remains especially relevant as India goes through a second wave of Covid-19 with extreme pressure on the critical care functions to both reduce the hospital burden but also to use telemedicine to treat the large numbers of patients who are isolating at home. Looking forward, this space is expected to continue to evolve and create opportunities in e-diagnostics (including artificial intelligence and machine learning), e-pharmacies, and digital record systems.

  • Smart hospitals are becoming increasingly prevalent across the region, driving efficiencies in the real-time monitoring of inpatients, as well as interdisciplinary diagnosis and treatment using digital technology South Korea is a leading example with the launch of the K-New Deal – a USD 133 billion investment plan which includes the construction of 18 smart hospitals.

  • Alternative supply chains for disposable items are being created to meet local demand and support export growth. Developments are expected to help evolve local MedTech, pharmaceutical and biotech supply chains and stimulate economic growth regionally as well as for individual markets.

  • Preventative medicines and lifestyle advice are spurring the development of wearable devices to  track and monitor general fitness and disease. In India, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare continues to use public messaging techniques to push information and communication on education programmes on NCD’s but also towards reducing the spread of Covid-19.
A global challenge with local responses

Opportunities are always accompanied by challenges – especially in a highly regulated sector like healthcare. Future challenges include: sustaining healthy behaviours adopted during the pandemic – such as handwashing and exercise, and minimising cybersecurity, fraud, and threats to privacy, as well as possible misdiagnoses. The question national governments must tackle now is how to embrace new technologies and embed new models in the healthcare system to ensure long-term benefits.

Across the vast APAC region, governments are reacting and reforms have appeared in the fields of biotechnology, telehealth, and pharmaceuticals. Increasing the pace of innovation will be a driving force behind the post-Covid-19 economic recovery in the Asia-Pacific region. Andrea Staxberg, Head of Business Development APAC and Industry Practise Lead Healthcare & Life Science in APAC

Asia-Pacific is a high-potential market for Swedish SMEs; successful growth can be achieved with thorough preparation and a strategic approach to market entry and stakeholder engagement. The many countries that make up the region are extremely diverse economically and culturally, and are at different stages of maturity and should be approached with targeted and tailored market strategies. Forming local partnerships and learning from industry experts with the right network is crucial to understanding the market and identifying ways to add value.

Swedish SMEs will need to resume business as usual in this time of continued uncertainty, although with a different delivery model as restrictions are loosened. Ongoing factors, including rapidly aging populations, geographical disparities over access to health-care services, all recently coupled with the effects of a global pandemic, are being addressed by local governments and the sector is ripe for recovery. Now is the time to take the opportunity to expand in Asia-Pacific.

Business Sweden's Health & Life Science team in APAC can support your company's market expansion ambitions.