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Smart Healthcare: Combatting Challenges Faced by a Transforming Regional Industry

The GCC healthcare sector is continuing to expand to meet rising demand for services from a growing — and aging — population that is facing the challenges of serious chronic lifestyle related medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. The UAE especially is also a rapidly growing centre for healthcare tourism, with its world-class healthcare facilities; Dubai is ranked 16th overall best destination in the world in the Medical Tourism Index for 2016, and 10th in terms of quality of facilities and services.

Within the industry’s changing model of care — with an increasing focus on prevention and wellness, rather than a sickness model, and emphasis on collaboration across the sector, including public-private partnerships — digital technology has a vital role to play in supporting the aim of providing access to high quality, cost effective, sustainable and safe patient care, with improved medical outcomes.

According to Alpen Capital’s GCC Healthcare Industry report 2018, “technology will remain the core factor in upgrading the GCC healthcare sector over the coming years. Technologies such as electronic health records, e-visits, telemedicine, connected medical devices, robotic procedures, health monitoring wearables and health analytics are gaining acceptance in the region”.

In Dubai, the emerging smartest city in the world, we have the added advantage of access to a digital innovation culture and the enabling technologies that make Dubai — and its healthcare system — the smartest in the region. It’s a digital transformation that is happening at every level in the healthcare sector. Thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone, the large population of millennials is increasingly adopting wearables to monitor its own health and self-diagnose, whilst the government is leading on AI, Blockchain and IoT (Internet of things) with electronic medical records and data analytics; and healthcare providers are adopting automation, telemedicine and digital hospital solutions.  

This mirrors the worldwide trends in which, according to research from Frost & Sullivan, smart healthcare will make up 15 per cent of smart city business by 2020, underlining its position as an industry building a technology-enabled future.

Where do we find Healthcare Innovation?
Digital innovation is a strong theme across every sector in Dubai, including healthcare, and much of the applied innovation is home-grown, thanks to a strong innovation culture and environment led by the government, and which is attracting innovators from around the world.
Integrating innovation into healthcare is a priority, enabled by the smart city environment and in response to the increasing demand for healthcare services. Technology healthcare start-ups are making Dubai their home of choice: 2017 saw health start-ups from China, Germany, Nigeria, Singapore, the UK and the U.S. pitch new solutions to investors in Dubai, under the umbrella of the Dubai 100 programme, an incubator for start-ups.

Also, the Dubai Health Experience programme is the world’s first comprehensive electronic medical tourism portal designed to attract increasing numbers of healthcare tourists. Dubai’s ambition is clear: to attract 500,000 medical tourists by 2020.

Which Technologies are Transforming Healthcare?
The youthful population is building its own personal health-management ecosystems: this aligns perfectly with consumer expectations to manage and access services by smartphones, cloud computing and universal connectivity. We all want to shop, bank, and communicate with on the go, on our mobile devices. We now expect health organisations to provide us with similar innovative services and a simple and convenient experience. 

Take blockchain for example; a technology that will certainly make an impact on healthcare. It is already becoming embedded in the financial sector, and it is likely that digital healthcare start-ups will now start to leverage blockchain to give patients greater control of their personal medical data. The decentralised nature of blockchain offers an ideal trusted storage mechanism for digital health records, and with more clinical data, genomic data, and data from wearables being generated, this is significant. Dubai aims to be the world’s first blockchain-powered government by 2020, and the potential impact on healthcare records is very clear.

Furthermore, telemedicine could transform healthcare in three distinct ways, through increased access to primary care doctors and specialists, by reducing costs and by delivering improved health outcomes. Patient monitoring and data gathering takes place at home. Dubai is already taking a lead on this issue, with the launch of the 24/7 Population Health Management Program in late 2017, plus also the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) 2016-2021 initiative that encompasses 3-D printing, medical informatics and an extensive primary care scheme under its telemedicine programme.

Dubai has a clear healthcare mission and implementing the right digital technologies will help the city to continue to lead the way.

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