Etisalat is a regional telecommunications powerhouse that perhaps needs little introduction. Founded 43 years ago, the UAE company has grown to become the 14th biggest mobile network operator worldwide, with operations in 15 markets.
What might not be known is that Etisalat is also an emerging force in eHealth.
Overseeing the telco’s charge into new territory is digital transformation specialist and healthcare industry veteran Khalid Ghalou Adine.
Adine, who earlier this year had contributed to the Innovation Committee at Innov8 Talks, Arab Health 2020’s sessions on the latest ideas, explained to Omnia Health Insights that Etisalat was at the beginning of an important journey.
He pointed to the transformation of the healthcare industry, one that was shifting from provider centric approaches to patient centric – as a trend that was especially apparent in the Middle East and in the UAE in particular.
Seizing the opportunity to empower this transformation – and positively impact society - healthcare was established four years ago as a strategic industry vertical within Etisalat Digital, the company’s business unit dedicated to digital technologies.
Its mission was to provide a new care delivery model, leveraging the Etisalat’s assets (big data, cloud security, IoT, AI and so forth) to improve patient outcomes and efficiencies for customers.
Change is change, of course, and rather than appoint specialists from a telecommunications background, Etisalat looked to the healthcare industry itself, building a multi-disciplinary team that included clinicians, doctors from A&E, system integrators, and experienced hires from NHS Digital in the UK.
Etisalat Digital Healthcare has identified three key areas of opportunity.
The first is “smart hospitals”. Through smart solutions and capabilities that help caregivers enhance their processes, patients can enjoy safer service and managers to reduce inefficiencies. Examples of such solutions include Smart Room, smart parking, BMS, EMRs and medical imaging.
Second, Etisalat Digital is offering a “health information exchange” or framework - leveraging the ‘pipe’ and Etisalat assets like cloud compute, connectivity, cyber security or information backbone to enhance healthcare processes. Etisalat is contributing to the government of UAE with a use case for health information exchange initiatives.
Etisalat is working with Abu Dhabi, for instance, to deliver an integrated electronic health record across the emirate through providing a light EMR as a cloud service, which has already been integrated with Malaffi to increase adoption of the health information exchange in Abu Dhabi.
Etisalat with the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi (DoH) announced the launch of the Digital Health Centre, an initiative aiming to drive innovation in areas that include chronic disease management and the healthcare marketplace, in addition to the use of blockchain, AI and big data to enhance healthcare outputs and quality of services.
Medical imaging is another health information framework use case, with Etisalat providing medical imaging software in the cloud as a Pay As You Go (PAYG) model so that no initial investment is required by the customer.
At Arab Health 2020, Paxera Health and Etisalat launched their cloud-based medical imaging platform powered by the former’s AI-based PACS and the latter’s 5G broadband, meaning that healthcare institutions can access and manage high volumes of medical images at lightning fast speeds.
Third, Etisalat Digital is focusing on telemedicine, a solution it describes as “population health management” – allowing patients to enjoy a better quality of life from home by enabling caregivers to monitor and control their condition through telehealth solutions.
Again at Arab Health 2020, American Hospital – with whom Etisalat enjoys a “remarkable synergy” - announced that it had launched a first of its kind telehealth service in the private sector using Etisalat Digital’s specialised telemedicine software platform offering advanced voice, video conferencing and collaboration technologies. Adine stressed that popular video calling solutions used by many hospitals, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, are not strictly telehealth solutions.
While Etisalat Digital is well equipped with the technologies, vision and talent necessary to lead the digital healthcare revolution, it faces challenges, as can be expected with any attempt to disrupt or digitally transform.
Changing mindsets is one – a challenge that many disruptors can relate to - including any internal misconceptions that Etisalat Digital is providing telco services.
In a similar vein, Adine cited fear as holding the local healthcare industry back from any innovation that might impact patients.
With cloud computing a key component in the transformation of the industry, he acknowledged that in the last five to 10 years there were security breaches in healthcare in advanced countries.
He nonetheless stressed that they were learning from mistakes made, adding that Etisalat is a trusted cloud service provider (Etisalat OneCloud and Microsoft Azure). Not only is its cloud services within the UAE and therefore compliant – it is a key security player through worldwide partnerships in cybersecurity and having gone through “long and painful” certification programs.
Adine identified local regulations as a second challenge, using the example of telemedicine - a service cutting across SMS, calling and connectivity - and called for a stronger regulatory framework in support of digital healthcare.
He however reserved praise for the UAE Government who, as he put it, is working hard to support companies such as Etisalat in enabling services that are compliant with international medical service standards.
While conceding that healthcare was not an industry that readily embraced transformation – unlike for example banking (fintech) – Adine remained highly optimistic.
The biggest disruption is happening right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, with Adine even speaking of a “before” and “after”.
The ongoing crisis is forcing the rapid adoption of new technologies: demand is surging not only for telehealth but wearables too, as individuals look to measure their blood pressure, temperature and oxygen saturation among other metrics.
Demand has also grown for big data solutions – in tracking COVID-19 patients and the epidemic spread for example.
Indeed, Adine believes that a combination of IoT and big data, more than any other technology or innovation, will have the biggest impact on the healthcare industry in the years to come.
With the increased support of governments, who Adine considers will prioritise healthcare like never before after the global pandemic, Etisalat Digital and other disruptors from outside healthcare will be firmly positioned to transform the industry - and correspondingly people’s lives.