UCrest Berhad on a mission to digitalise healthcare from KL to Kigali

Kah Yee Eg, founder, UCrest

UCrest Berhad chairman Kah Yee Eg shares an update on UCrest’s initiatives to transform healthcare for patients, wherever doctors happen to be in the world, in an interview with HealthTechAsia.

Headquartered adjacent to 1 Utama, a sprawling shopping mall near Kuala Lumpur that ranks among the world’s largest, UCrest has been making strides across the world of healthcare for over a decade – and now they’re advancing into new markets across the globe. 

Listed on the Bursa Malaysia stock exchange, the Petaling Jaya company signed in recent weeks agreements with MDC and Mediprima Healthcare for UCrest’s IoMT platform iMedic’s integration into clinics across Malaysia. 

They’ve also been busy further afield, having signed an agreement with digital payment platform and business process outsourcing company StayOnline to provide intelligent medical services to patients in East Africa. As part of the collaboration, UCrest will establish a centre of excellence for a digital healthcare research institute in Rwanda, serving as a platform for research and development for IoMT and AI in healthcare. 

Over tea at One World Hotel’s Peridot Club Lounge, UCrest Berhad chairman Kah Yee Eg explained what attracted the digital health company to do business in Africa, complementing its existing operations in Singapore, China, and Malaysia. 

“Rwanda was never on our radar, but I have been invited to go. After some research I realised that Rwanda is known as the Singapore of Africa though they are still behind.

The government is building new hospitals aiming to become the digital health hub of Africa and medical tourism hotspot, so that instead of flying to Switzerland, patients fly to Kigali. The country has no sea border, and for them to do any manufacturing business that requires sea freight, it’s difficult.  When I visited over a few days, I saw these top-notch hospitals and training centres housed within a huge piece of land, and saw this as a great opportunity for us as a digital health company. Having equipment is easy but having the expertise to know how to use it and treat disease is not, and they can use some experience here. Currently, they only have one cancer centre.”

By signing a business partnership in March to integrate StayOnline’s payment gateway into its iMedic platform, UCrest saw an opportunity to elevate local healthcare standards through making available the specialists needed by patients in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Zambia. 

It’s a tried and tested approach: UCrest’s iMedic Cloud Hospital is currently used by renowned doctors and patients in the US, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Europe and Middle East for the diagnosis, management and treatment of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, stroke rehabilitation and other diseases.

“A typical treatment is chemotherapy,” Eg continued. ”The key is to find a good oncologist and team of specialists to look at your data, and advise on what to do. We have a multidisciplinary team of doctors to look after a cancer patient, for example an immunologist, an oncologist, and a genetics expert. 

As a cancer patient, you go all out looking for the best doctors with the right expertise, whether they are in Shanghai, San Francisco, or Dallas. They don’t necessarily need to be physically present; they just need to have access to their data.”

There are other benefits, too. “We can reduce costs if we offer healthcare services online,” Eg emphasised. “There is no saving by going to the clinic physically.” He referenced a survey conducted among the Singaporean population after the pandemic, revealing that 65% of patients stated they wouldn’t seek medical attention unless telemedicine options were available.

UCrest has embraced new frontiers since its inception, including the adoption of emerging technologies like AI.

“From day one, our priority has been securing data through blockchain technology,” Eg said. “Additionally, we developed an interface technology between devices and Wi-Fi-enabled devices to enable input into our system through IoMT. With a significant volume of data at hand, we developed AI to effectively manage it and trigger alerts to the patient, doctor, or family members only when abnormalities are detected.”

UCrest has also implemented AI in medical imaging in recent years. “We began working on another AI component six years ago, specifically focusing on medical imaging modalities like ultrasound, CT scans, and X-rays. We have systems that look at the retina, to help look for diseases such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration that can lead to blindness, and diabetic retinopathy. The patient simply walks into the optician, has a picture taken using a fundus camera, and has the picture uploaded to iMedic™ for ophthalmologist to review.

Another way we use AI is in pathology labs, where it looks at all cells in tissue samples to look for cancer, for example, offering a more accurate approach. We are planning to deploy AI for processing other medical imaging data, such as to detect skin disease, which is a unique dataset.”

While UCrest has innovation at its core, it also prioritises a people-first approach. The UCrest chairman explained that the company seeks to transform healthcare for the better.

“Healthcare is a heavily regulated business. You can’t just do anything you want. You still have to go through a clinical trial and you still need to get through FDA approval, and then you can bypass the doctor that signs the piece of paper. Without this it’s an assisted tool, rather than an automated tool. 

We’re a public company, but we do not want to do things just for the purpose of generating revenue. Our focus is on disrupting the industry, and making changes that benefit people’s lives. We want to catalyse the healthcare industry to change to the next level.”

Eg highlighted the problems facing healthcare today, and the need to adopt a patient-centric approach. “National healthcare costs are escalating, and with ageing populations it will be worse. Today Governments and companies are assuming most of the responsibility. But what if we shift the responsibility to the patient? We can halve the burden and increase productivity. Let the patient manage their own health with tools that we build, like measuring blood pressure, blood oxygen, blood glucose and even ECG. Ultimately, they will only use a doctor for conditions that they don’t understand.”

“Our system is focused on disease prevention, management, and recovery,” Eg elaborated. “This is why we have the slogan ‘Home is Clinic’. We complement the physical hospital by building a digital hospital on top, so that they continue to provide a better service even when patients are home.”

At the core of putting the patient in control is granting them ownership of their data. “In fact, the first thing we want to do is to establish transparency in healthcare, by having everything recorded by the doctor in the clinical management system accessible by the patient. The patient should authorise anyone they trust—be it friends, family, or others—to view this data.”

Adding that doctors should also be rated by patients, the UCrest chairman referenced an app familiar to many consumers across Southeast Asia: Grab. As the interview wrapped up, it was hard not to see the similarities between the two entities, both originating in Malaysia, and how UCrest was on an exciting expansion journey of its own.

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