[Opinion] Learning from COVID-19 on healthcare

Table of Contents

No one expected COVID-19 to spread so rapidly. In early January 2020, I remembered my friends at work and I were discussing about the novel coronavirus outbreak (before it was christened the name COVID-19) in China. Back then, we thought that these was just another type of flu that was easily treatable and merely shrugged off fears of it becoming a pandemic outbreak. Fast forward to today (as of 15 January 2021), how wrong were we! We currently have 93.8 million cases of people contracted with COVID-19, and the number is still growing!

Lesson 1: The power of data and analytics

From ground zero of the pandemic, the world realised the importance of data management and data sharing – from data on the virus itself, to patient locating and sociodemographic information, patient risk assessments, and any additional information for contact tracing and sanitisation of patient visited locations.

Analytics comes in to link all the information together – or rather, to connect the dots and see the big picture. By analysing the “big” data, it can reveal trends and correlations that would otherwise be lost in the mass of data. This allows governments to take action more quickly and effectively, better allocate resources, and provide faster and accurate information to be reported to the public.

With greater power, comes lesser privacy

With the ability to make sense of more data, comes lesser privacy. This is because there are now people who understand the data collected from you, and they might even know you better than you know yourself! This data collection, sometimes even without yourself realising it, may violate your rights. Hence, learning how to safeguard your personal data is vital in this technological era!

Take Malaysia’s contact tracing app – MySejahtera, for example. The app collects a lot of data – mainly location data (which is expected), but also a slew of other data that you might not be aware of.

Healthcare Data Collection
The types of data collected from your MySejahtera app – MySejahtera website

Sure, this data looks like nothing much, but once you consolidate the data from everyone and analyse it – it can be used for a variety of purposes. Hence, the hype of unlocking big data and data analytics. It unlocks a treasure trove, and is especially useful for marketeers (though governments and others have plenty of use for your data too!)! Personal data is a precious commodity that we often give away for free, often without thinking too much of the consequences.

Take just location histories data for example, it can be used for a variety of purposes. For one, it can tell you which stores attract the most footfall. It can also gauge what your preferences are by the places you visit – and thereafter send you personalised advertisements to tempt you to spend your hard earned money. On a wider scale, location data can be used understand group behaviour, economic trends and also the impact of public policies.

It’s never too late to review what kind of data you are sharing. You’d be surprised that you’re sharing much more personal data than you thought you were.

Lesson 2: Some people just can’t stay still (home)

For most (including me!), it’s my first time living through a worldwide pandemic. Most of us have never had to make such sacrifices before – staying home, social distancing and limiting contact with others. With the world getting ever more connected, all these disruptions can make people anxious. Some, despite repeated pleas from the government and health officials to stay home.

Read also: Raya 2021 with COVID-19

So, why won’t people just stay home?

Humans are social creatures

We crave connection. We are social creatures. We love our freedom. It’s in our nature. Being denied all these for prolonged periods can sting. Making sacrifices can be hard, but some are just plain selfish and don’t think it’s their problem. The best I’ve seen is that some people denounce that very existence of COVID-19.

But frankly, to those who can afford travel now, yet still have a roof over your head, need not worry about food insecurity, have uninterrupted income, or even being able to pay your road tax – you’re blessed and privileged. How about blessing others by just staying home for awhile longer and flatten the curve till it is all over?

Lesson 3: Healthcare is expensive

Are capitalist private healthcare systems the way to go? Or public healthcare system triumphs? I’ve been reading news on how expensive healthcare in the US is. It’s frightening to know that something so fundamental like human health, can cost a bomb. Healthcare should be a fundamental human right, and not something to be capitalised and to be made profit off.

Universal healthcare system vs Private healthcare system?

What is universal healthcare? – A universal healthcare is a system that provides medical services to all its citizens, regardless of their ability to pay. It is generally financed mainly through general taxation. The sheer cost of providing health care makes universal healthcare a large expense for governments.

The US healthcare system’s is a patchwork of part public, and part private systems and programs, thus making healthcare more costlier. Even those insured may still need to fork out a huge sum to cover their healthcare bills.

Making comparison with our local healthcare system, Malaysia’s adopts the universal healthcare system model. Sure, it’s costlier for the government, as it relies on taxpayers’ dollars to subsidise the bills for the people, but is able to treat all people regardless of their ability to pay. This means, the poor who otherwise can’t afford healthcare, are able to access it – and they’re usually the ones who need it the most.

Majority of us still are still uninsured

In the US, it is projected that about 30 million people (about 8-10% of the US population) are without health insurance (Source: Congressional Budget Office). And out of those numbers, some only have insurance provided by their employers. With the COVID-19 outbreak, it has led to some losing their jobs. If they do not have insurance coverage of their own, their woes are further compounded by finding themselves temporarily or permanently out of insurance, and that’s a situation a nation should always avoid.

But Malaysia is worse off than the US, with only 22% of Malaysians are covered by personal health insurance according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019. That’s a shockingly low number!

Taken from Institute for Public Health 2020. National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019: Non-communicable diseases, healthcare demand, and health literacy—Key Findings

Everyone needs to be covered by insurance in case something unfortunate happens. Medical bills are often costly, and can wipe out your entire savings with just one bill.

(I realised I have a lot to rant on insurance and it’s products and policies – hence I’ve decided to move my thoughts on insurance to a separate post instead. Stay tuned for my next opinion piece – “Is a disruption in insurance in order?)

So what have you learnt from COVID-19 so far on healthcare?

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