As the economy in Southeast Asia strengthens, more people are willing and able to pay for quality healthcare. As a result, there is increasing pressure on governments to upgrade infrastructure, develop resources, and attract the talent required to support this demand. And while hospital infrastructure in Southeast Asian countries tends to be concentrated around the big and economically significant cities, healthcare providers today are shifting their focus to manage demand arising from the small but rapidly growing towns as well.
So what are the key challenges facing healthcare providers in Malaysia, and what opportunities are in store?
1. Pressure Increases Due to Medical Tourism
According to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council 2016, the number of medical tourists has been increasing in recent years but still lags behind regional leader, Thailand. However, the weak ringgit, low oil prices, as well as availability of halal foods, medicines, and treatments give Malaysia an edge—particularly for patients from the Middle East. In fact, the International Medical travel Journal (IMTJ) named Malaysia the ‘Destination of the Year’ in 2016.
Moreover, as patients now have access medical information at the tips of their fingers, they have become more demanding in terms of the price and quality of service they receive from medical professionals. There is increasing pressure for hospitals in Malaysia now to have the right capabilities and provide a rewarding patient experience in comparison to their competitors in the country and across ASEAN.
2. Dilution of Standards & Technological Advancement
With higher demand than ever for healthcare procedures, hospitals are increasing their capacity. However, this carries the risk of struggling to maintain service standards, what with longer waiting hours, lack of individual attention, and increase of medical errors. It is imperative for hospitals to address these issues, and the use of IT solutions and other smart healthcare technologies is becoming more pertinent in enabling healthcare providers to maintain high standards of service. While the adoption and integration of these technologies has a high cost attached, hospitals should still look to adopt disruptive innovations such as telemedicine, patient exchange programmes, and collaborations with prominent physicians and institutions in order to alleviate staffing issues.
3. Limited Supply of Doctors and Nurses
As the patient population ages and the severity of illnesses increase, hospitals are pushed to make significant improvements to productivity levels. For private patients seeking specialist doctors, the reputation of the physician is one of the strongest pull factors. As a result, private healthcare providers have to pay a premium to acquire more experienced medical professionals. Compounded by a labour shortage, this leads to higher operating costs overall.
According to Aon Hewitt’s 2016 Malaysia Healthcare Industry Survey, the tough domestic competition and weak ringgit has made nursing an attractive profession. Nursing salaries at lower levels have increased as much as 52% from 2014. The survey also shows 30% average reduction in hospital employee headcount in the last two years. The result is war for a bounded pool of talent within the industry as enrolment at nursing colleges slow down and qualified nurses pursue more appealing opportunities overseas. The result will simply be a fragmented system of care with less bedside interaction, less patient education, and less frequent updates to patients on their care plan.
What does it take to win?
As hospitals in Malaysia and the ASEAN region move forward into a new era with intensifying competition, it is crucial that not only are the latest technologies adopted but quality of patient service and healthcare delivery is not compromised. To do this, healthcare providers must develop strong talent management strategies to attract and retain the best. These include:
restructuring the hospital’s HR to introduce new efficiency technologies in staff training
positioning themselves as employers that remunerate and reward their talent attractively
implementing performance management systems tailored to their needs
developing programmes to strengthen engagement levels among nursing staff
adopting new technologies, both operationally (for doctors and nurses) as well as in supporting areas (such as finance and administration), and provide training for staff to be competent with these new systems
All in all, HR professionals in the healthcare industry must strengthen their talent management strategies to win the war for talent that will shape healthcare services industry for years to come—not just in Malaysia, but around the ASEAN region.
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