Digital inroads continue into UAE’s healthcare sector

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From remote consultations with virtual doctors to connected hospitals and intelligent diagnostics, digital health is a reality in the UAE, as visitors to the in-person Arab Health trade show are witnessing for themselves this week. Yet, the digital transformation of the healthcare sector has only just begun, according to a new survey from business consultants Accenture.

“We are in a radically changing world marked by rapidly evolving healthcare consumer expectations, location-agnostic care needs, and a rise in new ecosystem partnerships that are accelerating the industry several years forward,” Dr Kaveh Safavi, a senior managing director in Accenture’s Global Health practice, said in a statement. She called for healthcare leaders to create a future that places the human at the heart of everything they do, while prioritising technology innovation.

We thought as the pandemic eased people would walk away from these online services, but the opposite is true. Due to the convenience of medicine at your fingertips, I predict a tipping point is coming in the next couple of years.

– Andre Daoud, Group CEO, Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres

As is evident in other sectors, hybrid and online models continue to remain central to healthcare delivery. Residents are already seeing the impact of digital technologies and continue to embrace them, says Andre Daoud, Group CEO, Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres.

“We thought as the pandemic eased people would walk away from these online services, but the opposite is true,” Daoud says. “Due to the convenience of medicine at your fingertips, I predict a tipping point is coming in the next couple of years.”

Digital technologies at work

Daoud talks about telemedicine, electronic health records and artificial intelligence (AI) as digital technologies that will change the delivery of healthcare over the medium term.

AI and machine learning have played a significant role in better understanding and addressing the Covid-19 crisis, thanks to their ability to ingest large volumes of data and identify patterns and insights quickly.

If you interacted with the Virtual Doctor chatbot service from the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP) to determine your Covid-19 status, you’ve already encountered AI systems at work. The chatbot has helped residents assess whether their symptoms were associated with the coronavirus, asking questions about their travel history and contact with others, as well as symptoms and health habits. From the answers, an algorithm deduced if patients were at risk, and they were then automatically connected to a doctor.

Predictive care is about utilising data to make predictions of what is most likely to happen and with the knowledge of foresight, one can keep the intended population healthy as opposed to waiting for diseases to develop.

– Dr Adam Chee, Chief, Smart Health Leadership Centre, Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore

“There are several digital health trends that hold great promises in the healthcare sector. But if I can only choose one, then it would be the appropriate adoption (and scaling) of AI for clinical diagnosis and more importantly, for predictive care,” says Dr Adam Chee, Chief, Smart Health Leadership Centre, Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore, who is also a speaker at a conference in Arab Health. 

“As the name implies, predictive care is about utilising data to make predictions of what is most likely to happen and with the knowledge of foresight, one can keep the intended population healthy as opposed to waiting for diseases to develop,” Chee explains.

Electronic records were a standard feature of healthcare in the UAE since well before the pandemic, but residents switching from one healthcare provider haven’t always found it easy to have this data transferred. That could change with the imminent launch of the MoHP’s Riayati service, a National Unified Medical Record that will centralise each resident’s health history within a single database that is connected to over 2,500 private and public sector healthcare providers. The service aims to enhance healthcare coordination and provide critical data in emergencies..

Meanwhile, online bookings and consultations are already a standard feature across the country, supported by pandemic-related limitations, government regulations and the country’s high connectivity.

Robots to our assistance

But behind the screens, UAE residents can also expect to encounter robots at facilities across the country. Mediclinic City Hospital, for example, pairs experienced surgeons with the advanced da Vinci Xi robotic surgical system for delicate and complex procedures. The tool combines conventional laparoscopic techniques with high-precision robotic technology, giving surgeons magnified vision and 360-degree four-arm dexterity for more precise operations through tinier incisions than before.

Similar robotic-assisted surgeries have been carried out in Abu Dhabi, at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City and at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

That fusion of technology and healthcare delivery is here to stay. As Accenture’s survey shows, 81 per cent of healthcare executives say the pace of digital transformation is accelerating. Digital innovation is essential to meeting healthcare consumers’ expectations as we limp back to a post-pandemic normal.