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Interconnected solutions can boost personalised healthcare systems

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An insight into how data will close the gaps to achieve world-leading healthcare in the Middle East.

The Middle East is putting force behind its mission to lead in the arena of healthcare – and we have never been closer to achieving it. However, there is one glaring obstacle in the way of realising the vision of world-leading care that we aspire to: the inequalities that exist throughout the region. 

The rural-urban divide

Bridging these inequalities requires expanding the progress made within pockets of innovation across the entire region. The rural-urban divide that exists means lack of access to quality healthcare for many patients, and we see this disparity play out in the ability (or lack thereof) of healthcare professionals (HCPs) to approach patient care equipped with the latest knowledge and technologies. Without the proper resources, HCPs in rural and developing areas are not able to provide the best level of care available, a reality that directly impacts patient outcomes.

The rural-urban divide is an extremely complex issue and healthcare disparities are merely a symptom. In primarily urban areas, highly mature health systems have decided to concentrate on becoming a destination for high-end health services. The concept of health tourism is a fantastic economic endeavour, and one the rest of the region could benefit from.

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Olfat Berro - Area Head, Middle East, Roche.

Roche’s recent report on the Middle East’s progress towards personalised healthcare systems demonstrates how the focus of highly mature systems on building health tourism – tailored to the wealthiest 10 per cent of the region – has inspired investment into providing high-quality basic care for the remaining 90 per cent of the population in medium-mature health systems. Some of the solutions for the broader population have included telehealth initiatives and overall emphasise a less centralised health system to meet the needs of rural patients.

Standardise data, standardise outcomes

Standardising healthcare outcomes across the region relies heavily on the standardisation of resources and knowledge available to HCPs.

We can achieve consistency by aligning our collective medical knowledge through data-driven, personalised healthcare. A data-based system gives HCPs an opportunity to have a robust patient profile to understand each patient, as well as compare their patient’s data against an entire region of other patients’ data. By identifying similarities, differences, and patterns, they can select the optimal treatment based on each patient’s needs.

Simply put, if every HCP has access to the same database of clinical information, then clinical decisions can be more streamlined and patient outcomes, as a result, will be more consistent. The most important part is that these patient-provider conversations in Dubai would be based on the same information available to HCPs in Al Qurayat.

Some countries have taken steps to ensure that data-based healthcare is the way of the future. Saudi Arabia, for example, is already mobilising for the future of health by establishing the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA), which is incorporating AI into its healthcare systems. This adds a layer of possibility, with the ability to use AI to interpret data patterns more effectively and generate valuable recommendations for HCPs.

Digital health bridges the gap

The power of data is unquestioned. But it’s important to remember that data is a digital tool, and it requires an inherently digitalised healthcare system: one that can be expanded to every part of the Middle East.

Individual access to technology varies widely across the region, and so the effectiveness of systems that rely on individuals to have access to technology and digital infrastructure is inconsistent at best. A much more effective approach would be to integrate local HCPs into a regional digital infrastructure.  

Consider a local midwife with the ability to digitally correspond in real time with licensed professionals, or a primary care physician with the ability to share scanned patient images to diagnostic specialists in urban areas for interpretation. Connecting local care providers to the specialised resources available in the region maximises the impact of the expertise we already have.

The payoffs of a system like this are high, from the cost savings of avoiding unnecessary treatments or hospitalisations to the economic prosperity associated with improved regional health. One area where we need to invest to enable this system is in the training of local HCPs on the use of digital tools. This is an effort that could pay dividends: training existing local professionals in these digital tools addresses immediate patient needs and can also inspire and facilitate healthcare training for citizens of the region, helping to meet the growing regional demand for HCPs.

In every instance, investment in healthcare is truly an investment in the future of the region.

Investing in the future of the Middle East

The Middle East has an abundance of opportunities to improve the healthcare quality across the entire region. Making this healthcare oasis a reality starts with empowering all healthcare professionals to deliver care decisions based on the latest data and with the latest resources available to them. We can only be a destination for the world if our own people can benefit from our healthcare power. 

Olfat Berro is the Area Head Middle East at Roche.

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