The events of the past 18 months proved challenging for many in the Middle East – caregivers in particular faced significant cognitive load, from work pressures to fear of COVID-19 contamination.
Yet while the pandemic saw frontline health workers stretched, it also had the effect of accelerating digital transformation in healthcare.
In an interview with Omnia Health Insights, Elias Saleh Barragan, VP EMEA, Vocera Communications, now part of Stryker, told how the clinical communication and workflow solutions leader, whose mission is to simplify and improve the lives of healthcare professionals and patients, is uniquely positioned with its solutions - and revealed what the future holds for healthcare in the region.
An established GCC leader in health communication and workflow optimisation
While a health tech business with foundations in Silicon Valley, Vocera is far from a newcomer to the region, having been established since 2014 with the opening of its Dubai office to serve hospitals and luxury hotels.
Saleh Barragan, who is based out of the Dubai office himself and responsible for leading business operations across the territory, explained how Vocera addresses a fundamental problem in healthcare: communication and collaboration in hospitals – including in the Middle East – are fragmented.
“You have hospitals practically using multiple devices of various complexities and of different technologies. Some aren't well standardised, and it varies in sophistication,” he said.
“Imagine you have caregivers using traditional tools such as mobile phones and calling people, and others using WhatsApp and open communication platforms that are non-enterprise, and still others calling down the hallway.”
Other than general confusion, there is of course a very real implication to patient safety.
Saleh Barragan cited a Joint Commission statistic that 70 percent of accidental deaths and serious injury occurring in hospitals are the result of communication challenges.
Vocera addresses this challenge by ensuring that collaboration is seamless between caregivers through hands-free voice communication, secure texting, and intelligent alert and alarm management. This interconnection results in greater operational efficiency and patient safety.
The Vocera platform, which can integrate with 150 clinical and operational systems, makes communication more meaningful by aggregating data from multiple digital systems, turning it into contextual information, and delivering it to the right person on the right device at the right time.
This “situational awareness”, according to Saleh Barragan, helps reduce interruption or alarm fatigue by understanding the relevance of the patient-centered data from each system and sending actionable messages to care team members to assist with clinical decisions.
Supporting healthcare workers and patients in the Middle East
In the years since 2014, Vocera has embarked on a journey of growth, delivering care and clinical communication solutions across the GCC - mainly in UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.
In 2019 Vocera embarked on a strategic collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention to standardise care team communication and optimise patient safety.
Al Qassimi Hospital became the first in the UAE to receive the Vocera Smartbadge – the company’s latest wearable, voice-controlled device allowing health workers to use their hands for patient care while being able to communicate.
Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City in Abu Dhabi followed in 2020, the first hospital within SEHA – the largest integrated healthcare network in the UAE – to standardise care team communication with Vocera solutions.
Vocera was implemented at the largest cardiac centre in Bahrain. Mohammed bin Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa Cardiac Specialist Centre (MKCC) is now using Vocera solutions to simplify workflows, and integrations with the hospital’s EMR, real time location (RTLS) and nurse call systems to help speed up response times and improve patient care.
Communication benefits aside, the Vocera Smartbadge and Badge played a more critical role than usual from 2020 because of COVID-19: the hands-free devices, which can be used under personal protective equipment (PPE), helped ensured that caregivers avoided contamination.
Looking ahead, Saleh Barragan sees an exciting future in the region, pointing to not only the emergence of “amazing” new facilities but also the adoption of new technologies as digital transformation initiatives undertaken by health systems gather speed.
Saudi Arabia, for example, is a “tremendous” market opportunity, he said, owing to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 agenda and transformation of its healthcare system.
Partnerships are also key to the region’s prospects.
“I think if you look at the macro trends in the market and the GCC healthcare market, the next five years would be focused on closer ties and building bridges between private and public health care,” he explained. Collaborations and partnerships will in turn transform the market adding further value, Saleh Barragan added.
The launch of new hospitals and expansion of existing facilities over the next five years will of course also present a need for trained caregivers across the Middle East. Another area that Vocera focuses on is giving back time to caregivers and reducing cognitive load which in turn helps with staff retention.
“I feel that we are uniquely positioned, due to our extensive experience across the globe with over 1,600 facilities utilising our solutions,” he explained.
“Across those 20 years we've built a multidisciplinary team that is composed of nursing, medical staff and technologists. Through having had successful implementations around the world we can transition knowledge into new facilities across the region that are embarking on similar transformational journeys.”
Innovation and partnerships
Going forward into 2022, Saleh Barragan sees three priorities.
First, Vocera will continue to focus on delivering on “mega-projects” that the company is implementing across the Middle East, to accelerate value to public healthcare systems in various countries.
Second, Vocera will continue to partner with healthcare systems in areas of importance such as healthcare data protection laws in GCC countries and the EU (GDPR), made ever more important in the pandemic as caregivers are empowered with more communication tools.
Lastly, new modules and products will be released as Vocera continues to innovate.
Indeed Vocera will be looking to use Arab Health 2022, an event held by Informa Markets in Dubai on 24-27 January, as an opportunity to discuss new technologies and features (visitors may find them at H7.D01).
“We look at 2022 with a lot of hope,” Saleh Barragan concluded. “We have a very positive view of the year.”