Healthcare apps have the potential to mitigate the rising tide of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Malaysia by improving access to knowledge and incentivising behavioural changes, says an expert.
According to Dr Feisul Idzwan Mustapha, consultant public health physician and deputy director of the Ministry of Health’s Disease Control Division (Non-Communicable Diseases), such apps could be part of a supportive living environment that empowers individuals to make intuitive and informed healthy lifestyle choices.
“Behavioural issues are a major challenge when it comes to NCDs, and it is behavioural issues which I would like to see solutions developed for when it comes to digital health,” said Feisul. “Unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol use are all common risk factors in the causation pathway of NCDs.”
Speaking at the recent Malaysian Innovative Healthcare Symposium (MIHS 2018), Feisul highlighted apps such as Naluri and BookDoc which provided direct access to self-help modules, health coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy approaches to behavioural modification.
However, Feisul commented that it was important that such digital solutions not only consider the social determinants—eg, poverty, housing, nutrition, lack of education, environmental hazards—that made healthy choices difficult for Malaysians, but also worked on helping users prioritize health.
“A unique thing about us Malaysians is that we rate health very low versus other life priorities. As an example: when the Social Security Organization (SOCSO) provided free health screening vouchers to contributors about 3 years ago, only 20% of them took it up,” said Feisul. “At medical camps or health screenings, those people who get their own blood sugar checked tend to either be those of lower risk—the healthy—or those who already are diabetic patients. Those at high risk tend not to get themselves screened.”