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Dr Maliha Hashmi, MENA healthcare leader, shares NEOM's vision of healthcare model of the future

Interview with Dr Maliha Hashmi, Executive Director and Deputy Sector Head for the Health & Wellbeing and Biotech Sector at NEOM.

The world is facing unprecedented healthcare challenges that demand fresh solutions and visionary thinking. We sat down with emerging health leader Dr Maliha Hashmi, NEOM executive and keynote speaker at Medlab Middle East 2020, to hear her views on the healthcare model of the future.

Dr Maliha HashmiDr Hashmi began by stating that her mission was to make the world not only healthier, but happier. She went on to state that NEOM, a bold vision of a new future, has been proposed to rewrite the rulebook altogether, bringing together mental, physical and wellness care under one roof and empowering individuals to take ownership.

In these rapidly changing times, Dr Hashmi warned of a looming crisis in the global healthcare market, with 100,000 doctors needed by 2030. She proposed a novel solution to remedy this gap: a fundamental “shift” toward a culture of proactive self-care, powered by today’s technologies.

Through automation and digitalisation, she stated, citizens will be able to monitor and assess their health on an ongoing basis to identify issues before they are full-blown problems, thus assuming responsibility for their own wellbeing. It’s a “proactive prevention” approach, in Dr Hashmi’s words, that becomes a lifetime personal responsibility from cradle to grave (a similar example in an education context might be lifelong learning).

To enable this, however, convention will need to be tilted on its head. "We are not only taking care of the sick; we are investing in healthy individuals," Dr Hashmi explained.

There is one problem: no system worldwide can cater to this. An entirely new model is required, fit for the Fourth Industrial Revolution era - which is where Dr Hashmi says the advantage of NEOM comes in.

Healthcare redesigned for disruptive times

Dr Hashmi described herself as being part of a team designing the most innovative healthcare system anywhere in the world at NEOM.

Located in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, NEOM proposes to become the home and workplace for more than a million citizens from around the world. A new model for urban sustainability will be introduced, focused on setting new standards for environmental protection, the effective use of technology and community health. Upon completion, NEOM aspires to be one of the healthiest places in the world that focuses on proactive prevention and defining world-class treatment of diseases.

NEOM, Dr Hashmi explained, will provide an exciting opportunity to build a new healthcare system from scratch that “borrows” or integrates learnings from high-performing systems across the globe.

She added that silos associated with more traditional healthcare models will be removed. Physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing comprise the same whole, Dr Hashmi emphasised, meaning that everyone’s needs will be looked after in a holistic and person-centric system.

Dr Hashmi also spoke about the importance of the impact of mental health on the health and wellbeing of individuals. Mental health, so often overlooked worldwide, has an eventual impact on physical health that is both visible and implicit. As such, NEOM’s health centres will have not only physicians but nutritionists, life coaches and psychologists too, all available for residents and visitors to confide in.

Ultimately NEOM aspires to become a benchmark for existing healthcare systems in transition so that learnings are taken and implemented as needed in a ripple effect. While this might be challenging in legacy systems, she is nonetheless optimistic that this approach will create positive waves globally.

A people-centered paradigm

Dr Hashmi described NEOM as a new design for a new era. Fittingly the latest technological advancements in healthcare and biotechnology will play a major role: dedicated digital infrastructure and AI, combined with genetics and smart technologies, will offer real-time assessments and ‘digital twins’ for each resident.

She further stated that “nudging devices” - or smart devices in homes - will empower residents and visitors daily to take control of their health and wellbeing: a smart toothbrush reminds people brushing their teeth that there is a minute to go; the wise mirror will advise on how their vitals are; a slight discolouration in the eye prompts a reminder for a checkup, or alternatively an AI-enabled virtual doctor (Doctor NEOM) is available to provide immediate assistance.

Dr Hashmi offered as an example the Fitbit (a popular device gifted to every employee at NEOM) that can help monitor sleep and fitness through sensor technology. Like Fitbit, NEOM’s nudging devices will ensure that residents and visitors are reminded of the basics from sufficient exercise to rest, thus preventing problems further down the line.

Yet while healthcare at NEOM will have a strong technology emphasis, Dr Hashmi was keen to underline the importance of personal choice and the human touch.

She explained that while virtual assistant Doctor NEOM, for example, might be available from the comfort of your own pocket, there will always be a human doctor at the end of the conversation. And with NEOM prioritising the highest ethical standards, patient confidentiality is guaranteed (notably, Dr Hashmi has a doctorate degree in health law regulations and health care system design management, as well as Master’s degree in History of Medicine & Ethics from Harvard).

Happiness: the bottom line

It’s clear that NEOM is no ordinary project, and Dr Hashmi is no ordinary healthcare leader, being able to connect the dots over and beyond the norm. It’s why she spoke the keynote at Medlab Middle East 2020 on Innovations and redefining roles and it’s why she shared her vision of life in 2030 at the World Economic Forum, one of only five global experts to do so.

She is also motivated by the urge to continue learning, creating and designing - a modus operandi more commonly associated with the tech sector and disruptors of today.

Yet her bottom line goes beyond data on an income statement. Quite simply, Dr Hashmi is on a drive to make the world a happier place: an outcome that would undoubtedly make her even happier herself.

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