Health workforce ‘not in sync’ with advances in tech, say educators

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter  

PUBLIC-PRIVATE partnerships and a modernized curriculum can address the lack of expertise that prevents Filipino healthcare workers from taking advantage of innovations in their field, educators said. 

“We have all spent a lot of time onboarding nursing and clinical graduates but they’re unfortunately not in sync with what’s needed out there,” said Jose Ronaldo H. de los Santos, south cluster head of the Mount Grace Hospital Network, at the Integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Leadership Summit in Mandaluyong City on Nov. 3. 

According to the National Telehealth Center, urban areas saw at least a 50% increase in the use of telemedicine services in 2020 from pre-pandemic levels.  

This rise will continue, Mr. De los Santos said, adding that over 40% of the local health sector now relies on tech firms that develop telehealth, wearables, and mobile health apps.  

“We’ve been doing electronic records and digital imaging for years now, but data analytics, IT infrastructure, and connectivity are things we still don’t have widespread expertise and access to,” he said.  

Meanwhile, scant investments in research and development (R&D) can be alleviated by adding new blood and forming partnerships among doctors, scientists, businessmen, engineers, mathematicians, and communicators, said Dr. Charles Y. Yu, vice chancellor for research of the De La Salle University Health Science Center.  

“Countries like us are resource poor and haven’t invested enough in R&D, which is a shame because we have some of the finest scientists working in fields like tuberculosis management, for example,” he said at the same event.  

The Philippines’ investment in R&D averages less than 0.2% of the annual gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Department of Science and Technology. This is far below the international standard of 1% of a country’s GDP.   

In September, the World Intellectual Property Organization ranked the Philippines 59th in the 2022 Global Innovation Index, eight down from its spot last year.  

“We need to connect the dots. I’m a big believer in public-private partnerships, so businesses must invest,” said Dr. Yu.  

Educating the health workforce must also involve instruction, introspection, and immersion, according to Dr. Rosario Bernardo-Lazaro, president of the Philippine Academic Society of Social and Community Medicine.  

“Inter-professional education and collaboration means honing hard, technical skills as well as interpersonal and communication skills,” she said. “We can do this by emphasizing public health and community medicine, disciplines that allow critical thinking, analysis, and systems thinking.”  

She added that Filipino health workers must be educated based on the convergence of the health system, the educational system, and communities.