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Spotlight: Saudi MoH introduces Health Holding Company

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Patients can now find local doctors more easily, research hospitals, and book medical appointments.

Saudi Arabia’s new holding company appointed by the government to take over healthcare services, the Health Holding Company (HHC), has a wide-ranging brief as it embarks on the task of digitising and advancing the kingdom’s healthcare system.

Taking over from tasks once done by the Ministry of Health (MoH), the HHC will focus on providing medical services and care via upcoming health clusters, a set of independent companies that focus on specialist services.

It marks a new era in Saudi Arabia’s healthcare sector, allowing the MoH to focus on regulating and supervising all public and private health institutions in the country, as part of a nationwide plan to overhaul the performance of the country’s healthcare spanning from cities to remote regions, with the HHC focusing on areas such as expanding digital health programmes and virtual medical services.

The newly established body will also provide specialist services including cancer and renal rehabilitation and critical care in the areas of cardiology, vascular neurology, and trauma. This is part of a move within the country’s privatisation programme that aims to make healthcare more widely accessible. The project has been in place since 2018, with reported plans to privatise 290 hospitals and 2,300 primary health centres by 2030.

The establishment of the HHC is also a key element of the Saudi 2030 plans and lays the legal foundations for implementing the transformation strategy in the MoH that will take place in successive stages over the coming years.

The local health clusters will implement a set of programmes aimed at enhancing community health through the prevention and early detection of diseases by means of developing primary healthcare services and within this, a more comprehensive, effective, financially sustainable and integrated health system.

Preventable disease poses a huge challenge to the country’s healthcare system. Around US$26 billion are spent directly and indirectly on diabetes-related issues alone each year, now a major public health issue in Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, creative use of technology is helping to reduce these costs.

Additional challenges are the likes of preventable or treatable heart disease. According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) data published in 2020, coronary heart disease deaths in Saudi Arabia reached 39,037 or 29.13 per cent of total deaths.

The Saudi Ministry of Health and private providers have been harnessing technology in this battle, which has paved the way for today’s move to digitisation. The MoH online portal has already included several mobile and online apps that offer free educational health services to citizens such as a vaccination reminder service for children based on their age and the Hajj Health Companion providing healthcare advice, information and bulletins from the ministry during Hajj rituals.

The incoming system will also aim to improve access to health services through optimal coverage and a comprehensive and equitable geographical distribution, expanding the provision of e-health services and digital solutions, as well as improving the quality of health services.

New apps will be part of this strategy based on the success of recent applications such as Sehhaty, offering pharmacy discounts, and booking system, Mawid. The world has seen a huge impact of technology on improving healthcare access and saving lives in remote areas with less access to clinics and expertise, from applications that support instant communication to medical professionals and devices and machines that reduce the reliance on city or urban-based facilities among some of the solutions.

In Saudi Arabia, around 16 per cent of the population lives in remote, rural areas, according to the World Bank. These areas depend on primary healthcare centres that lack specialists such as nutritionists and psychologists, which technology can help transform. While such centres are mostly staffed with general medicine, family medicine, and obstetrics and gynaecology physicians, whose numbers are more concentrated in urban areas, there are many needs not yet being met in the more remote communities.

Access to emergency care will also be a top priority, ensuring rapid evaluations and care and support from a pre-hospital emergency medical service. Research has shown that the distribution is not equivalent in the rural to urban areas, so rectifying this with the support of technology and virtual medicine, will be of high priority in the coming years.

The Health Sector Transformation Programme also works on harmonising and coordination between all health sector entities, VRPs and relevant government entities, in addition to aligning and linking with strategic national goals during the transformation journey.

With an increasingly mobile workforce and a growing gig economy, plus a population moving around the country for the likes of tourism and pilgrimage, patients will be able to find local doctors more easily, research hospitals and book medical appointments. Additionally, safe sharing of medical records and the use of AI will transform both patient experience and security as the system moves into a new era.

Technology relating to healthcare management in Saudi Arabia since the coronavirus pandemic, has also played a key role in shaping its vision realisation programme, having seen the positive impact it had during one of the world’s most challenging times.

This model will be utilised and developed to further track current and potential epidemics, enabling the healthcare system to not only better manage but prevent further crises. Saudi Arabia’s government and private sectors combined developed and launched approximately 19 apps and platforms that serve public health functions and provide healthcare services.

Health education processes continued using an established electronic learning infrastructure with a promising direction toward wider adoption in the future.

Telecommunication companies exhibited smooth collaboration as well as innovative initiatives to support ongoing efforts. Risk communication activities using social media, websites, and SMS text messaging also followed best practice guides and will form the basis for future developments.

The use of artificial intelligence in integrating different data sources during future outbreaks will now be further explored, in addition to reducing the number of mobile apps to merge them into single apps to better merge functions and maximise potential.

The pandemic alone highlighted the strain placed on the kingdom’s health services by the COVID-19 outbreak showing the need for more robust apps such as booking platforms for vaccinations and remote access to patient records.

Since then, multiple cloud solutions have been developed and continue to be advanced, with multi-cloud solutions boosting the provision of healthcare to the country’s 35 million people.

Such cloud provision helps public healthcare providers including hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies boost efficiency. Now, there are more VMware solutions coming to the forefront of healthcare aiding the growth of the country’s healthcare providers. This has been proven recently as it is more widely adopted, offering highly secure software-defined services for greater security, reassuring patients and medical professionals of data protection, as well as better cloud management, signalling a safer future for both patient and provider.

 

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