Automation Healthcare

Opportunities in digitally transforming healthcare in the Middle East

By: | Damian Bonadonna

Publish Date: March 28, 2019

Digital technology brought new value to the users of healthcare products and services along with reshaping the way individuals and organizations in the healthcare ecosystem are interacting with each other. As per the report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, Middle East countries are increasingly adopting technologies to solve the challenges in the healthcare segment. Significantly, government-led digital transformation efforts are critical in enabling the use of technology to address healthcare challenges.
Mostly, in non-governmental sectors, technology adaptation is delayed or face obstacles due to institutional and regulatory barriers. These barriers can substantially impact the time for innovations to reach until the middle or end user. On the other hand, governments have started exploring the potential of technology to improve healthcare in general. 5 out of 14 countries in the middle east region have a well-defined digital transformation plan for healthcare in action. Once the adaptation is a national level drive, the result shows rapid growth in digital health ecosystems and the onset of a diversified economy. For example, the Israel government recognizes digital health as a national economic growth engine. The result is the development of extensive innovation networks of digital health accelerators and multinational companies in the country.
How is it reshaping?
A national or international level reform needs cooperation across different entities. In most of the reforms, the government plays a catalyst role by proving connections across organizations to establish collaborative centers to co-create digital solutions for healthcare. This process is not limited to the corporate or government bodies, but the change is seen across industry domains, technologies, and inter-country boundaries along with users and customers.  Big size companies interact with grass-root level agencies like local hospitals to bring innovations and technology together.
Key implications:
For massive transformational change to take place in digital health, a fundamental shift in stakeholders’ collaboration is a MUST. Secondly, government action in developing and maintaining a collaborative ecosystem is necessary.

  • Strategic change for all the collaborative entities in the digital health ecosystem.
  • Technology adoption in different markets to be change-ready and to scale digital health
  • Response to local challenges and varying levels of readiness.
  • Set up centers digital health in strategic locations with high digital density, leading to the formation of digital hubs.

The reasons for the transformation
The middle east healthcare sector has witnessed exponential growth in the past two decades driven by but not limited to some of the reasons:

  • Rapid growth in population
  • The rise in lifestyle-related diseases
  • Increase in average life expectancy
  • Under-resourced medical sector.
  • Response by governments by spending money on building more hospitals and improving medical services.

Some facts and stats

  • Increase in government spending drove the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) healthcare market to expand by 7.7% a year on average between 2009 and 2014, to reach $55 billion.
  • Gulf nations are modernizing its healthcare sector by digitizing diagnostic imaging and results, providing online health information and shifting to electronic medical records.
  • The UAE has embarked on its vision to build high-tech medical cities. In late 2017, the UAE government appointed a minister for AI with a ‘UAE Strategy for AI’ with an objective to integrate AI into medical services to minimize chronic and life-threatening diseases in the country.
  • Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a Vision for 2030 planned.
  • Dubai has the region’s first fully autonomous AI medical center launched in early 2018.
  • Investment in digital health has the center of attention in almost all middle-east countries.

How it works: Inserting technology into healthcare
The first move towards digitization started with shifting paperwork to EMRs (Electronic Medical Records) providing patients with access to their medical files. It has the benefit of building patient empowerment. The EMRs include results, scans, medication and appointment reminders pushed through enhanced web portals and mobile devices to patients.
Another move is seen in the development of medical applications. For example, a technical platform allows patients to search family health records quickly, escalate emergencies, book appointments, get personalized health news and receive medication reminders — the medical and patient data work as a starting point for next innovations to consider.
Third, an increase in public and private sector investments as the country’s strategic plan.
Remote healthcare services excel barriers of distance and geography. Telemedicine, remote care, continuous monitoring, and support, are additional trends to grow in the coming years. Healthcare providers are increasingly looking for digital features to run in real time like digital patient records on phones, tablets and mobile applications attached to the system for better patient support and billing.
In addition to modern medicine, traditional, or regional preventative healthcare based on diet, exercise and regular check-ups have also seen a shift in the individual’s approach, organizational provisions, and government permissions. A parallel shift is seen to occur from curative to preventative care.
All-in-all, healthcare transformations enabled providers to optimize the costs and enhance patient care and meet national digital transformation agendas.
Although the entirely digitized healthcare segment seems a near future, some key challenges may impact the progress of digitization. Middle East countries, unlike western countries, are only started setting up the infrastructure, system, and mindset to allow digital growth in the healthcare segment. Few challenges ahead in the path may include:

  • The absence of a digital core system to support innovations
  • Skill and education of staff and stakeholders in general about the digital processes and know-how.
  • Knowledge of using healthcare analytics.
  • Awareness of healthcare system areas that can be digitally transformed
  • Availability of good IT partner for holding hands during the adoption of technologies like Blockchain, AI, 3D printing, etc.
  • The concern of patient data privacy, security, and risk of storage and transmission of patient data

In Nutshell
Notwithstanding pressures of low global oil prices, the Middle East nations are keen to build world-class healthcare systems and have set out strategic plans to do so. Governments, healthcare providers and companies will have to figure out how to initiate entire healthcare ecosystems to adopt new technology-enabled ways of solving challenges in healthcare.  More than 50% of global healthcare professionals polled believe artificial intelligence (AI) in medical decision support will be adopted more widely in the Middle East region.
Digital technology is making new care experiences possible by reshuffling delivery nodes of different medical services that will bring opportunities in decentralized and near-patient products and services. While the level of digital maturity is uneven across the Middle East, and sometimes across different areas of healthcare, EIU Healthcare’s market insights and growth consulting services can help companies answer key questions to develop and execute a successful growth strategy.

  • Research from Ardent Advisory
  • Walid Tohme’s post: Partner with Strategy& and a member of the firm’s health and digital business practices
  • The Economist Intelligence Unit’s whitepaper ‘Digital Health: Digital Transformation in the Middle East‘

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