Malaysia’s Health Culture significantly evolves amid COVID-19
Life in Malaysia has settled into a “new normal”. The effects of the pandemic have severely impacted the world’s economic and healthcare systems and have left a lasting impression on how Malaysians view and take care of their health. More citizens have embraced healthcare technology, taken proactive steps to maintain a healthier lifestyle, and are rethinking their budgets to prioritise financial preparedness for medical emergencies.
To get a better understanding of the changing attitudes and behaviours in the new normal, iMoney and Prudential Malaysia hosted Eric Wong, Chief Customer and Marketing Officer of Prudential Assurance Malaysia Berhad, Dr. Feisul Idzwan Mustapha, Public Health Physician and Deputy Director (Non-Communicable Diseases) at Ministry of Health Malaysia, and Maggy Wang, former FlyFM Radio Host and Founder of Motion Lab in a panel discussion where they shared insights and trends that they are seeing today.
Relying More on Digital Healthcare
In lieu of a physical medical appointment, Malaysians are relying more on telehealth services for non-emergency health and medical queries. While general practitioner (GP) clinics have seen only a quarter of their usual patient load, healthcare providers have observed that people are now more receptive to digital conveniences in healthcare such as telehealth and teleconsultation services.
This is a significant shift in behaviour when compared to findings from a survey conducted by iMoney and Prudential earlier this year, before the movement control order (MCO). The Malaysian Health Survey found that 75% of Malaysians surveyed had never used an Online Doctor Consultations (ODC) service before, and of these respondents, 69% preferred to see a doctor in person, while 22% were not aware of such a service. In a recent study, Frost & Sullivan forecasted a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025 – a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2%.
“Although new COVID-19 cases have plateaued, easing the strain on our public healthcare system, we can expect some Malaysians to continue avoiding clinics and hospitals even after the recovery movement control order is lifted due to fears of contracting COVID-19 during their visit. We expect Malaysians to continue to turn to healthcare applications for their medical needs and for self-care. We already see shifts in both the private and public sector who are rolling out telehealth services and applications to meet this market demand,” said Dr. Feisul.
“We see a trend where digital health is moving beyond transactional telehealth consultations, to more holistic digital health solutions. An indicator of this trend is the rising interest in the Pulse by Prudential mobile application. Pulse is an AI-powered health and wellness application developed by Prudential that provides a variety of digital health services such as a symptom checker and health assessment, online doctor consultations, health related news and fitness tracker capabilities. Since March 2020, Pulse has seen a significant increase in both downloads (more than 470,000) and usage (monthly active users increased by twofold),” said Wong.
He added, “When we launched Pulse in 2019, our goal was and still is to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to everyone. During these unprecedented times, we’ve seen more and more people turn to digital platforms to manage their health. We have also leveraged on Pulse to deliver value-add content to our users such as COVID-19 related resources and provided free COVID-19 coverage to customers and non-customers.”
More Awareness on Preparing for Medical Emergencies
Although they avoid going to medical facilities for non-emergency cases, Malaysians are becoming more aware that they need to be prepared for medical emergencies. Before the pandemic, many Malaysians were not ready for any medical emergencies. According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019, 46% of Malaysians did not have any form of supplementary financial coverage for their healthcare needs and relied on existing tax-funded healthcare coverage. Similarly, the Malaysian Health Survey found that in the event of a medical emergency, 1 in 4 Malaysians would depend on their family and friends to help cover the medical costs.
“Through a recent market research we conducted, there are a few key reasons respondents cited for not getting medical insurance. Some of them included a preference for public healthcare, reliance on employer insurance, and insurance simply not being a priority as they don’t think they will get sick. We all know that in the case of COVID-19 and most critical illnesses, medical emergencies can strike anyone,” added Wong.
“The current economic uncertainty has also highlighted a huge gap in savings and financial protection. Malaysians are starting to change their perception of insurance and becoming increasingly aware of the importance of being covered. When we launched the free Special COVID-19 coverage on Pulse, we had close to 170,000 registrations on the application,” Wong continued.
Increasingly Prioritising Health and Fitness
Beyond their changing perception and interaction with medical services and insurance coverage, Malaysians have become more conscious of their health and wellbeing. Since the start of the MCO, there has been a growing emphasis amongst Malaysians to kick start their fitness journey. Malaysia’s preference for home exercise has grown as they continue to practice social distancing. According to the Malaysian Health Survey, 58% of the respondents who exercise preferred to do most of their workouts at home.
“While on demand, the at-home workout trend is not revolutionary. It is nevertheless a trend that is here to stay as people continue to maintain social distancing. At Motion Lab alone, we saw 300% more viewers in our virtual classes during the MCO period. Based on our data, many of our new virtual joiners are people who did not usually work out before the MCO started but have now realised that they needed to get their health and fitness in check,” said Maggy.
Dr. Feisul chimed in, “The recently published Health & Social Behaviour during Movement Control Order (MCO) following COVID-19 Study by the Ministry of Health found that even though 85.5% of respondents practised a more sedentary life, a whopping 94.7% agreed that physical activity should be practised during MCO. Surprisingly, the survey also found that 88.8% of respondents felt that maintaining a healthy lifestyle helped them cope better during the MCO.”
Prudential Malaysia collaborated with iMoney on the Malaysian Health Survey to draw insights on the shifting health culture. The partnership also resulted in a 12-chapter guide on health and wealth published on the iMoney Learning Centre, aimed to empower Malaysians to better financially prepare for medical emergencies.
Pulse by Prudential is free to download on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.