VinBrain wins global award as Vietnam health care, tech see huge growth potential

14, Jul. 2021

Leaders and representatives of VinBrain and Hue Central Hospital at a ceremony to mark their agreement to use artificial intelligence solutions to support medical activities at the hospital on April 21, 2021. (Photo: VinBrain)
Leaders and representatives of VinBrain and Hue Central Hospital at a ceremony to mark their agreement to use artificial intelligence solutions to support medical activities at the hospital on April 21, 2021. (Photo: VinBrain)

By Celine Chen

HANOI, NNA - An AI-powered radiology solution developed by Vietnam's VinBrain has won a new global award for excellence in artificial intelligence, a feather in the cap for the country's budding health-tech industry.

This year's ACM SIGAI industry award for excellence in artificial intelligence (AI) goes to DrAidTM which is used by radiologists to detect more than 21 abnormalities and diseases of the heart, lungs and bones with an accuracy of over 89 percent.

It can automatically detect the COVID-19 coronavirus in both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases with mild lung injury shown on chest x-ray, combined with PCR test for the virus to improve accuracy and reduce false negatives. The diagnostic result can be easily shared via QR code or a link.

Officially launched in mid-2020, DrAidTM also offers novel features like a 'second-opinion' function that allows a doctor to consult other expert doctors anywhere, anytime.

It has been deployed in 84 hospitals and medical facilities in Vietnam, including top hospitals such as Hue Central Hospital, University Medical Center HCMC, Vinmec International Hospital and Thai Nguyen National Hospital.

In a press statement, VinBrain, a subsidiary of Vingroup conglomerate in Vietnam, said winning the award is "an affirmative milestone" in its journey to infuse AI and IoT (Internet of Things) into healthcare to improve human lives and productivity.

While it reinforces VinBrain as a pioneer company for AI products in healthcare in Vietnam, there are still many challenges ahead.

In March this year, Truong Quoc Hung, CEO of VinBrain, stressed the need for Vietnam to collaborate with tech giants in the world to foster the growth of AI.

He said, “Vietnam is a developing country, so AI develops at a fairly fast rate. But because this industry is too young, the quality of human resources is not up to the standard enough to build core technologies."

"We are standing on the shoulders of giants,"said Hung on VinBrain's collaborations with prestigious institutions like the universities of Stanford, California and Toronto.

He was speaking at an event to launch a Vietnam tech talent network initiated by New York-based Endevor, which is known for its unicorn incubator system for promising startups.

VinBrain has been lauded for launching DrAidTM by global AI scientists such as Andrew Ng, co-founder of GoogleBrain, and Curtis Langlotz, both from Stanford University.

The ACM SIGAI award is one of the world's top awards in the field of AI given annually to individuals or teams who have transferred original advanced academic research into AI applications. ACM SIGAI is a special interest group on AI of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), the world's largest scientific and educational computing society with nearly 100,000 members worldwide.

First given in 2019 to a Microsoft team led by famous AI scientist John Langford, the award was temporarily put on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Russin & Vecchi, an investment law firm in Vietnam, said healthtech is blossoming in Vietnam, with progress made in augmented healthcare solutions leveraging on AI, blockchain technology, virtual reality and augmented reality.

However, the lack of funding, which is crucial for sustainable growth in a highly regulated sector, is problematic, said the firm, adding that investment in healthtech startups in Vietnam is still very modest.

However, the opportunity for growth is clear, and many Vietnamese and foreign investors have begun to take advantage of it, said Russin & Vecchi.

In a report, it said, "It’s well recognized that a shock to the healthcare system, for example, a more lethal version of COVID-19, or significant numbers of infected persons, will challenge the nation’s hospitals and healthcare system. Vietnam continues its move to e-medical records. Some versions of telemedicine have been developing, but COVID-19 is an accelerant, and much is happening."

The health ministry has issued directives to prioritize telemedicine from remote consultation and visual diagnosis to distant training.

It is developing technology platforms for healthcare, including telemedicine, to build national databases for healthcare and promote digital transformation in the healthcare sector.

"The government’s hands-on support of healthcare adds a dramatic surge to the government’s commitment," said Russin & Vecchi, adding that the launch of Viettel’s Telehealth platform across Vietnam marked a significant milestone in the digital transformation of the sector.

Another example is healthtech startup eDoctor’s platform which allows users to book a doctor or nurse for an examination in the privacy of their home. Offering an extensive range of tests, eDoctor has gained a foothold in the business community, providing check-ups for large corporate clients like Toyota, Honda, and FedEx, said Russin & Vecchi.

Other notable healthtech platforms are Jio Health, which offers online booking for medical services; COVID-19 tracing app Bluezone; Docosan, which connects doctors and patients; and Thuocsi, a B2B marketplace supporting the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Giving an update on June 13, Tracxn said there are 107 healthtech startups in Vietnam today. The research firm highlighted the 10 most exciting ones, namely, Jio Health, Thuocsi, WeFit, eDoctor, Docosan, Medlink, Nhi Dong 315, Med247, ViCare; and Wicare.

Writing in Vietnam Investment Review, Eric Johnson from law firm FreshfieldsBruckhaus Deringer LLP, said the healthcare system in Vietnam is still strained and digitalization efforts have been slow and uneven.

These challenges and healthcare for an ageing population will create significant opportunities for foreign investment by the private sector in the coming years, he said.

Government hospitals are already under pressure and suffer from overcrowding, lack of supplies, and qualified doctors. Rapid urbanization accompanying Vietnam’s economic growth exacerbates these issues, creating space for private healthcare businesses to step in to fill the void, said Johnson.

He said, "In future we expect to see continued foreign investment into private hospital and clinic businesses, and the continued push by these businesses to develop into national chains. This is true for general hospitals and clinics, but also for specialized hospitals and clinics, for example, stroke, dental, and other specialized fields, which are still relatively rare in Vietnam and could present significant growth investment opportunities."

The growth of healthtech is an area to watch in the coming years, and local consolidations could create big companies that attract much needed foreign investment from major strategic and financial investors, Johnson added.