Accounting for 26 per cent of the total healthcare spend by GCC governments, the UAE finds a spot in the top 20 countries in the world with US$1,200 per capita spend on healthcare (AED 4,400). The healthcare sector in Dubai too remains robust driven chiefly by continued growth in population and supported by economic growth and Dubai’s position as a financial, trading and aviation hub for the Middle East region.
Innovations in clinical services, the adoption of new technology in care pathways, and mobile health solutions are changing the way health services are delivered across the world, and Dubai is also witnessing new and innovative models of care and the use of technology in early diagnosis (e.g. genome sequencing), and treatment of diseases (through precision medicine, use of 3-D printing, advanced robotic surgeries, use of VR and AI in disease management and treatment pathways).
“The Dubai Healthcare Authority (DHA) has prioritised fostering the development of future technologies,” says His Excellency Humaid Al Qutami, Director-General of Dubai Health Authority (DHA), in an interview with Arab Health magazine. “Artificial intelligence (AI) is at the forefront of the UAE government’s strategic plans. In 2017, the country launched the ‘UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031’ – the first of its kind in the region, and this aims to bring AI tools and technology to various sectors including healthcare. In alignment with this vision, in May this year, DHA launched its Innovation and Artificial Intelligence strategy that seeks to use AI and robotics to largely automate the process.”
According to Al Qutami, the new strategy is going to be the cornerstone of all DHA projects and initiatives that aim to acquire AI to serve its objectives, projects and development programmes.
“Over the last few years, DHA has increasingly begun adopting smart technologies such as Artificial Intelligence as we recognise the potential of this technology in transforming the health sector,” he adds. “Our aim is to make a quantum leap, strengthen the authority’s health system, and empower its human capital by equipping them with the latest technologies used in diagnosis and treatment.
”The main factors that make AI important in the future healthcare landscape are faster diagnosis, accuracy, cost-efficiency and the capability of this technology to decipher vast amounts of data that can be used for disease detection as well as prediction. “We are therefore keen to use AI in various fields of healthcare particularly to minimise and manage chronic diseases, deliver cost-effective, high-quality diagnostic and treatment services, help improve clinical productivity and enable care providers to better serve the community,” he says. “We will also use AI in screening, prevention and remote patient monitoring as we look to integrating it into the healthcare ecosystem to capitalise on the technology’s immense potential.
”The Dubai Health Authority has carried out several proofs of concepts using AI and the results have been highly promising. In partnership with Artelus, for instance, the DHA-run Dubai Diabetes Centre recently completed a proof of concept project for the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect diabetic retinopathy.
“The results have shown that if we use AI, it takes only 10 minutes from the time a patient has conducted the test until a doctor sees the results, as opposed to four working days,” he says.There is no doubt that the use of AI in detection of diabetic retinopathy can revolutionise the manner in which patients are screened for retinopathy. Apart from being cost effective, it will also lead to higher-quality care and better utilisation of resources.
“Ophthalmologists will only need to see retinal images of patients with retinopathy that the system detects as opposed to the current system where they need to screen all patients,” explains Al Qutami.
In the UAE where it is estimated that one in five people are diabetic and another one in five are pre-diabetic, the benefits of using AI in detection of diabetic retinopathy are simply multi-fold.
“As per international diabetes standards, we need to have 14 retinal images per diabetic. The estimated number of diagnosed diabetics in the UAE exceeds 1 million. To interpret 14 million images per year, we need more than 50 eye specialists working full-time. Deep learning system (DLS) using artificial intelligence (AI) are capable of identifying diabetic retinopathy and related eye diseases using retinal images with a high degree of accuracy. Thus, using AI can not only help provide retinopathy screening for a large number of diabetics but also lead to better utilisation of resources and time of ophthalmologists.”
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has recently selected the abstract of this study as a Poster for its Annual Meeting in Chicago in October this year.
Earlier this year, DHA announced plans to use AI technology for chest X-ray scans required for mandatory medical fitness for residency purposes. The move is aimed at improving the workflow, ensuring faster image analysis and automating reports. Accordingly, DHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Agfa HealthCare for validation of the first radiology AI algorithm in the UAE.
Over a period of two years, DHA and Agfa HealthCare reviewed Artificial Intelligence enabled workflows in radiology across the radiology departments of DHA’s medical fitness centres. Upon completion of onsite validation, the algorithm was able to correctly identify diseases in chest X-rays approximately 95 per cent of the time.
The DHA will first trial the technology in a few medical fitness centres, before expanding it to other facilities, informed Al Qutami. Given the huge scale of this service and the vast number of people who use this service per year, undoubtedly using AI will lead to faster image analysis, automated reports and improved clinical efficiency. We will continue the validation process with Agfa HealthCare to further improve the accuracy of AI Algorithm detection.”
Dubai Future Accelerators Initiative and AI Technology
In March this year, DHA selected four firms for the fourth cohort of the Dubai Future Accelerators Initiative where Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its deployment in the health care setting are a key focus during this cycle.
“The aim of the DHA as part of the Dubai Future Accelerators initiative is to explore the latest in technology,” says Al Qutami. “We aim to revolutionise the way healthcare is delivered while focusing on patient-centric care. We are looking for ways to improve the lives of patients and on ensuring patients lead a high quality of life to the best extent possible.”
DHA has signed MoUs with four cutting-edge international companies to adopt their inventive healthcare innovations in AI. This includes the implementation of virtual health through an app in partnership with Babylon, which uses AI technology to provide remote General Practitioner, GP, consultations round-the-clock. Additionally, the app syncs with 100 devices so that information about the patient’s daily activity is recorded. This information is available to the GP along with the patient history at the time of consultations.
“Another innovation we are working on that promises to have huge potential to enhance patient-care is in partnership with Healthcare and Innovative New Technology (HiNT),” he adds. “We carried out trials at the DHA run Rashid Hospital to see the usage and viability of HiNT’s innovative stroke detection headband. They have developed a wearable point-of-care monitoring device that detects when patients at high-risk are having a stroke. The device alerts the caregiver, the ambulance and the emergency within minutes. Every minute counts when a stroke takes place as two million brain cells die every minute when a patient is having a stroke. Our doctors are working with HiNT to see whether this system can be used not only for home-patient monitoring but also in hospital set-ups.”
In association with Bodyo, DHA is also planning to set up free to use AI pods across Dubai that will do quick health scans for the public and give immediate results.
“Bodyo has developed mobile AI-assisted pods or cubicles where people can step in and be screened for body temperature, blood sugar, blood pressure, body composition such as height, weight and other such vital parameters. The procedure is simple and takes not more than 13 minutes the first time. Our aim is to set up these pods across Dubai for residents to have access to free health screening,” he elaborates.
Preventive health is also being taken to the next level by deploying flow cell sensors that will detect sudden drops in vitals in ICU patients. Admetsys is the fourth company chosen for the Dubai Future Accelerators’ current project. “Admetsys has developed flow cell sensors to detect sudden drops in vitals in ICU patients through an algorithm that measures these vitals constantly and it can be read by a nurse on the monitor at a glance,” explains Al Qutami. “Any drop or rise is alerted by an alarm system. This saves vital time for the nurse and makes round-the-clock monitoring possible. DHA is currently studying the viability of this project in hospital settings.”
In the previous cycles of the Dubai Future Accelerators Initiative, DHA worked with 3-D printing firms and deployed the technology across its dental services. As a result, several complicated surgeries were performed using this technology and 3-D printed artificial legs were used to provide amputees with a new lease of life.
Healthcare facilities in Dubai to be rated from 2019
Dubai Health Authority (DHA) will rate all healthcare facilities including public and private hospitals and day-care health centres in Dubai in accordance with the Dubai Health Facilities Performance Framework (DHFPF).
The framework, known as Qeyas, will be finalised and implemented by the beginning of next year and has five pillars which include patient safety, clinical quality, patient happiness, financial and operational indicators.
The DHA’s Health Regulation Sector recently held a workshop with the private health sector to discuss the design and implementation of the framework. This is one of the several workshops and feedback cycles conducted with an aim to design a framework with buy-in from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Dr Marwan Al Mulla, CEO of the Health Regulation Sector said, “Benchmarking and measuring the quality of care is fundamental to help build a robust health system where patient-centric care and patient safety is the cornerstone. We are working closely with the private sector to design a system which uses health data intelligently to help enhance health service delivery.”
Following the implementation of this system, DHA will be able to:
- Improve quality across the health system in Dubai
- Provide consumers with information to help empower them to make better choices about healthcare providers
- Provide medical tourists with trustworthy, independently validated information about Dubai’s healthcare quality
- Develop a long-term reimbursement strategy, which is based on evidence of the quality of care provided
Dr Mohammed Al Redha, Director of Project Management Office, Informatics and Smart Health Department at the DHA said, “The methodology will be data-driven and grounded in sound principles of data consistency, relevance, accuracy and integrity in order to drive crucial decision-making and strengthen the health sector in Dubai.”
The DHFPF will include data from e-claims, Sheryan (DHA’s health regulation system), Salama (electronic patient file system for all DHA health facilities) and a range of private healthcare providers. The DHA will also engage with major private hospitals, day care surgery centres, selected polyclinics, Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) and Ministry of Health & Prevention (MoHAP) facilities in Dubai and support them to help provide data.