The rapid economic development the region has undergone has led to a significant increase in non-communicable and chronic ‘lifestyle’ diseases. According to the UAE Ministry of Health, cancer and cardiovascular disease are two of the three leading causes of death in the country, with the International Diabetes Federation reporting that there are 37 million diabetics in the middle east region with over 800,00 cases in the UAE alone.
Despite the similar challenges faced by the Middle East and the western world, there are significant differences in how each region approaches them. While European healthcare systems are looking at cost savings, care for the elderly and optimizing the patient journey, the Middle East is looking towards technology for a fully integrated experience. Indeed, the general feeling within the healthcare industry is that the Middle East is a region that is more open to new technologies. Where other regions have a legacy, says Jeroen Tas, CEO, Philips Healthcare Informatics Solutions and Services, in the middle east one can ‘start from scratch’. A sentiment echoed by GE Healthcare CEO for Turkey and the Middle East, Maher Abouzeid who gave the example how the Dubai Health Authority is interested only in the latest technologies companies have to offer. A representative from Orange explained how the region is very open to new technology, in particular anything that can improve the conditions for both patients and doctors through “smart healthcare”.
Given the blank slate that is the region’s healthcare market, it is perhaps no surprise that companies at Arab Health were so excited by the prospect of deploying IT solutions in the healthcare market. Telemedicine and platforms that monitor patients remotely were the talk of the town.
New technologies can bring an entirely new approach to the way doctors interact with patients and could reduce the need for large treatment centers. While there remains a large disparity between the places that make up the middle east, the countries of the GCC in particular already have the infrastructure needed to deploy smart technologies that can help doctors and patients avoid crisis situations that require emergency transport and rapid intervention in hospital.
On display at Arab Health this year were a variety of platforms and devices designed to ease the stress such conditions place on infrastructure and, crucially, improve the quality of life of those who live with such chronic illness.
The key benefit of technologies such as Philips’ eCare platform is that it allows practitioners to follow a patient’s vital signs and other metrics remotely. Where before patients would have to remain in hospital or be relied on to report things like their blood sugar levels, these things can now be monitored, tracked and analyzed from a central location thanks to smart devices deployed in the patient’s home and even on their person in the form of wearable devices.
These devices give clinicians an overview of each of their patients, allowing them to monitor them, adjust care plans or intervene as needed. This real-time data gathering means that doctors are able prioritize patients based on the data they’re transmitting back. Crucially, the system can be used to predict critical situations with patients based on their vital signs and past trends. Indeed, new smart healthcare products are able to leverage huge amounts of historical data to predict patient health crises before they happen.
Telemedicine and smart devices, according to Jeroen Tas, allows care to shift from simply reacting to critical situations to a more pro-active approach. Where the key steps in the patient journey now are a visit to the doctor when the patient feels unwell followed by possible admission to the hospital in a critical situation, telemedicine platforms can help avoid critical situations from developing. This, says Tas, can lead to a 30-50% drop in re-admissions for patients.
Therein lies the key value proposition for healthcare providers and those who pay for service. A drop in emergency room visits reduces the costs associated with critical interventions as well as reduces the strain on bed space in intensive care units. ICU beds are in high demand and extremely expensive. As such, platforms that allow remote monitoring of patients mean that hospitals can transition patients out of the ICU and back to their homes more quickly while providing a high level of continuous care.
Medical staffs in the Middle East are often over stretched. The difficulty of finding, recruiting and crucially, retaining, qualified medical staff is well known to hospital administrators. Through the next decade, Dubai alone estimates it will require 7,323 more doctors and 8,510 more nurses. A lack of training and homegrown talent in the region plays a significant role. Indeed, Princess Haya of Dubai, speaking at Arab Health, described a “need to encourage a generation who all have their own place in the healthcare spectrum”, explaining that the emirate faces a challenge in recruiting and training specialists.
Remote patient monitoring allows a single doctor or care team to follow a much larger number of patients. The ability to track, analyze and predict the health of patients means fewer direct interactions with patients, with care teams only getting involved when necessary. More advanced monitoring will also allow clinicians to tailor treatments to patients in order to provide personalized care and achieve better outcomes. Effective practice of preventative medicine can reduce long-term health expenditure by keeping people informed of their risk factors, providing them with methods to change their lifestyle and mitigate their risk.
Many companies are vying to get a hold on the telemedicine market in the Middle East. Device makers such as Philips and GE Healthcare will be hoping to leverage their existing relationships to deploy their IT solutions. However, new players such as Orange are hoping to build on their experience building networks in other parts of the world to enable the kinds of services that could very well be the future of how patients interact with their healthcare providers.