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Articles from 2021 In July


Ipsen launches regional headquarters

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Ipsen recently inaugurated its first regional office in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), headquartered in Dubai, to kickstart direct operations and bring innovative treatments to serve unmet medical needs covering oncology, rare diseases and neuroscience in the region.

The opening of Ipsen’s regional headquarters in the Al Jalila Foundation Building at Dubai Healthcare City was attended by His Excellency Dr Amin Hussain Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary of Health Regulations Sector at the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP), Her Excellency Raja Rabia, Consul General of France to Dubai and the Northern Emirates, Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, CEO of Al Jalila Foundation, and Professor Humaid Al Shamsi, President of the Emirates Oncology Society, among others.

“The opening of our new office in Dubai is a milestone for our company. We look forward to building value through our global innovation in oncology, rare diseases, and neuroscience, as we strive to contribute to the health and well-being of the people of the UAE, and the region, especially at a time when healthcare is a top priority,” commented Khaled Elrefae, the Middle East and Africa Specialty Care Operations Head for Ipsen.

Transformative Medicines

Over the last decade, the pharmaceutical industry has been a major focus for the UAE, with the government executing strategic and long-term plans to develop and grow the market. To manage vast territories, pharmaceutical companies are embracing the country's powerful infrastructure, economic incentives, and appeal for key stakeholders. Therefore, patients with rare medical requirements who may experience being referred to overseas treatments will now benefit from rapid access to new therapies with the presence of Ipsen's regional footprint.

Ipsen's areas of expertise include neuroendocrine tumours, which are the second most common gastrointestinal neoplasm after colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, spasticity, and renal and hepatic cell carcinoma, among others. These life-threatening diseases are often a challenge faced by physicians and patients, and appropriate treatment is critical, but the impact of transformative medicines is life-extending.

“As a French biopharmaceutical company with over 90 years of heritage and a global presence in advancing R&D programmes, we have continuously focused on creating exceptional value to the local communities we serve. We are dedicated to improving patient's lives and health outcomes and consistently focus on introducing innovative treatments and breakthrough medicines that help enhance the quality of life,” said Vice President of Middle East, Africa, and Maghreb for Ipsen, Matthieu Savarzeix.

Presently, Ipsen is developing a molecule that aims to treat the exceptionally rare disease Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP). Extremely disabling, the rare genetic disorder causes soft tissues to transform permanently into the bone, shortening a patient’s life span. “FOP affects one patient out of one million and afflicts children and adults. There is a high mortality rate and very few treatments available in the market. At Ipsen, we are committed to providing a breakthrough for this rare genetic disease and improve the lives of those who suffer from it,” Savarzeix added.

Saudi health sector transformation accelerated under Vision 2030 and pandemic

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In the Voice of the Healthcare Industry Market Outlook 2021, an annual survey of healthcare organisations worldwide from Omnia Health in partnership with GRS Research & Strategy, Saudi Arabia was identified by respondents as the country handling the Covid-19 pandemic better than any other worldwide. 

The Kingdom secured 23% of nominations, ahead of the UAE (14%), Israel (9%), New Zealand and China (7% apiece).

In a separate analysis by global information provider Refinitiv, the country was shown to be the best-performing of all emerging markets since the onset of the pandemic. The study of 25 countries worldwide in the MSCI Emerging Market Index ranked Saudi Arabia first through its near 27% rise in market value since the beginning of 2020. 

But it’s not just the economy performing well: there is positive wellbeing seen among the Saudi population. KSA ranked first among Arab countries in the World Happiness Report, published in March 2021 by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Saudi Arabia’s rebound is expected to inspire renewed confidence in the country as a tourist destination among potential visitors that may include international patients. 

Dr Maliha Hashmi, a prominent health leader in KSA, believes that medical tourism will emerge a necessity, rather than luxury, in spurring inbound tourism, not only in the Kingdom but also in the MENA region. 

“Due to the pandemic, there are many new protocols here to stay, from testing to social distancing,” she explained. “These leave the door wide open for the development of new health and wellness tourism packages that visitors may benefit from as they arrive on a short stay in the Kingdom.” 

Digital transformation accelerated in pandemic

A reason accounting for Saudi Arabia’s successful pandemic response is Vision 2030, the country’s ambitious long-term economic and social blueprint announced in 2016 to reduce its dependence on crude oil.

Under Saudi Vision 2030, KSA is undergoing rapid reforms to realise its economic potential - including in healthcare. Since the launch of the initiative five years ago successful outcomes have included facilitating access to emergency health services within four hours, at the rate of more than 87% compared to 36% before 2016.

Saudi Vision 2030 also paved the way for digital transformation, with the pandemic enabling its promotion and testing. Remote medical services have been made available through the ‘Sehhaty’ app, for example, while more recently users have been able to book the coronavirus vaccine of their choice.

According to Dr Maliha Hashmi, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is becoming the new international benchmark for healthcare transformation and sustainability, having accomplished this during the course of a pandemic that has shaken the whole world, and emerging a winner in resilience, innovation and the adoption of digital technologies.”

Heath Sector Transformation Program launched in 2021

With an eye on the next five years, the Health Sector Transformation Program under Vision 2030 was launched in 2021 aiming to restructure the health sector in Saudi Arabia to be a comprehensive, effective and integrated health system based on the health of the individual and society, that includes citizens, residents and visitors.

The programme depends on the principle of value-based care, which ensures transparency and financial sustainability by promoting public health and preventing disease, in addition to improving access to health services through optimal coverage, comprehensive and equitable geographical distribution and expanding the provision of e-health services. 

All citizens will for instance have insurance coverage through health clusters, with each cluster responsible for providing health services. As part of a proactive health service, furthermore, all citizens will have a family doctor following up on their health condition.  


Healthcare Transformation at Global Health Exhibition 2021

Online: 19 September - 18 November 2021 | In-person - Al Faisaliah Hotel, Riyadh, KSA: 17 - 19 October 2021

There has never been a more important time for corporate healthcare leaders and policymakers to come together to accelerate the healthcare transformative agenda. This is why the theme for this year’s edition is “Collaboration and Partnership to Create a Better Future for all”. This virtual forum will be a cross-roads of the KSA National Vison 2030 Health Transformation Plan and the SDG 3 call for Universal Healthcare.

Learn more and register your interest today >>

Digital Innovations set in motion a new age for healthcare

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Do you think that digital healthcare transformation equates to positive patient outcomes?

Healthcare transformation has been catalysed by digital tools and technologies since the onset of the pandemic. In contrast to other industries, healthcare faced challenges to evolve their traditional methods and adopt an approach to deliver towards a broad patient requirement. Quality and accessibility are prerequisites in healthcare systems for patients; however, these areas have been lacking in the present landscape. As a physician who practiced in the paper-based world and witnessed the early wave of technology, our practices and experiences have not grown exponentially. COVID-19 has set in motion design thinking and bringing solutions to the forefront. Tools and technology, which existed for a long time in the industry are now being adopted at a pace that we only dreamed about. We are at an exciting point in time, with talented professionals taking charge to transform the healthcare industry.

 

In terms of innovations that are already in place in the healthcare industry, how will they evolve further and be used by the healthcare industry?

Virtualisation of work and care has become a pillar of all industries, within healthcare telehealth was rapidly adopted. Pre COVID, telehealth was a topic of discussion with reservations surrounding it, however, the pandemic made regulators willing to enable the practice of medicine across territory lines. Payers and insurance organisations supporting the notion of virtual care through reimbursements led to its vast acceptance.

However, when we discuss digital transformation, it goes beyond virtual care and digital health. The future of healthcare ecosystems is going to be competitive, and this is where the fundamental building blocks of technology will be recognised. Data centers, servers, and hosting applications will be tools of the past, and cloud systems will gain prominence. There are numerous benefits of this, large data can be processed through the integration of environments, insights can be delivered immediately to proceed with the appropriate form of care. Microservices, artificial intelligence, analytics, and artificial intelligence are tools that drive data collected in cloud systems that describe back-end architecture and IoT.  

The power that IoT is the internet of things, enables devices and sensors to leap from the self to the quantified self. All this data funneled into the healthcare enterprise creates an immense power to create digital twins. This surpasses patient care and addresses processing within the enterprise as well. For example, picture a scenario where a healthcare facility has a robust infrastructure and AI analytics engine, with prominent data coming transferred seamlessly in across the enterprise from other facilities as well, which have patient history. Now health systems have the ability to create digital twins of patients, procedures, processes, and simulate them, to see what the impact is going to be on quality, access, and cost before they implement a solution. Therefore, the risk of attempting a procedure is mitigated, as physicians can plan better using the tools and technologies that are available.

However, there are challenges. As work environments have moved outside the four walls of every enterprise, cybersecurity is on everybody’s mind. Now we are not only in an era of bring your own device but bring your own environments. When working from home there are vulnerabilities potentially in that home environment, which stops us from thinking about how we shore up the entire ecosystem to protect the data. This is where technologies like blockchain step in.

The final piece is improving and integrating efficiency tools. Physicians and nurses would experience burnout due to the significant time spent interacting with technologists entering data. Ambient voice recognition and natural language processing are providing an efficient solution through features that enable a note which would be pre-structured to be transcribed without excessive editing. These experiences will enhance both patient and provider relationships and experiences. Pre Covid, the conventional wisdom was that the elderly will be slow to adopt the technology. However, when we look at the data from the pandemic, the elderly have been one of the fastest adopters of telehealth solutions.

In addition, when we analyse patient experience and satisfaction with telehealth and virtual care solutions, there have been findings that indicate that they are preferred and better than, impersonal visits due to convenience. To conclude, we are at the cusp of tremendous possibilities for innovation and historically we used to leave innovation to specialists, now we are getting low source code solutions, which allow frontline workers to be engaged in the part of innovation.

When we look at any industry, the best solutions come from the frontlines, not from the backend. The ability for clinical care teams and non-clinical care teams to be innovators, but also for IT teams to learn about business processes is crucial. It creates an effective ecosystem internally, that fosters greater innovation, leveraging all the tools mentioned. Therefore, the pandemic and all the tragedy that it has caused, has been a rude awakening.

Is there still a possibility that we are in a transition period and will be a percentage of offline patients? How will we evolve from this, or are we going to swing back to the conventional offline practices?

We're very much in a transition period, but it's also true that we cannot think in absolutes. As a whole, when you think about the penetration of technology in modern society, globally, the adoption of mobile phones is increasing. In fact, more people have access to a mobile phone worldwide than they do to toothbrushes and clean water. Imagine the power it creates in connecting resources to people who need them. Telehealth for instance will not solve every problem, it will provide a solution. Less than even 30% of the care can be offloaded from oversubscribed, health systems, clinics, and hospitals and delivered in a remote location. All of a sudden, you have a 30% capacity gain, which can be purposed for patients who really need it, such as high acuity complex care surgical care patients, therefore we can look at democratising access to care. We are starting to look at how we deliver care and create efficiencies in the infrastructure that currently exists. In terms of new models of care, we are gradually moving away from health system-centered care to patient-centered care, where health systems, clinics, hospitals, ancillary facilities, and other needed services revolve around the patient.

We are entering an era of digitally connected, distributed models of care and as health systems begin to adjust to the new reality, the question is how we go beyond telehealth and virtual care to a future state where we can be with the patient while delivering high-quality care and value. Now, the fundamental question that everybody asks is, well, will technology replace the doctor? And my answer is absolutely not. In today's day and age, and according to some studies, doctors spend as much as 50% of their time, looking for information or entering information or administrative tasks related to patient care, but nondirect patient care. Doctors and nurses are highly skilled resources that need to spend time on more patient procedures. In fact, there's undersupply and there's a shortage of doctors and nurses globally. Our first step has to be how do we begin to create paradigms and systems that allow doctors and nurses to be more efficient.

How machine learning can revolutionise clinical microbiology

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Machine learning can drastically improve clinical microbiology, from the quality to the efficiency of testing. Both a challenge and opportunity for this field is that more information is being created today than ever before. “This gives us the opportunity to try to use new tools to make sense of that information,” said Dr Daniel D. Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the  Robert J. Tomsich Pathology & Laboratory Medicine Institute, Cleveland Clinic. By ‘information, Dr Roads means sequencing data sets or digital images that are starting to be used routinely as part of the standard of care process and microbiology.

So where does machine learning fit in here? And how can machine learning help overcome these challenges?

Machine learning is one of the best applications or when it's often most successful, is for trying to detect rare events and classify them in images. “We do a lot of that in microbiology. We look at hundreds of petri dishes every day, and when it comes to bacterial vaginosis detection, for example, the samples can look very similar. There are important differences that machine learning can detect in a fraction of the time,” Dr Rhoads explained. It's a big opportunity to buy these emerging technologies in very useful ways.

While Dr Rhoads is based in Cleveland, he noted how Salt Lake City routinely uses machine learning as part of their own parasite exams. “There's a company called MetaSystems that uses algorithms to interpret microscopic images that can be applied to microbiology. There are also a number of companies that are developing algorithms to help classify images and Petri plates from cultures. A few years ago, this was mostly theoretical, but it's starting to be realised now, which actually makes talking about that a lot more fun.”

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Dr Daniel D. Rhoads

COVID 19 impacted all of medicine, but one thing it did in a positive sense was in pushing the lab into the limelight. “There wouldn't be a story in the New York Times front page on lab or diagnostic testing typically, but that was pretty routine throughout 2020. So It gave us an opportunity to speak up about what we do and, and how we do it and to demonstrate that there is the expertise behind the swab. It's not magic, there's nuance, and there are challenges. Most importantly, there are people involved. And I think that's been good for the profession as a whole.”

French diagnostics company Biosynex sets sights on Middle East for expansion

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Inanna Pinheiro-Gibsone

As a diagnostic company specialising in rapid diagnostic and point-of-care tests, Biosynex has been busy over the last year to meet booming demand for their products. Marketing manager Inanna Pinheiro-Gibsone explains why the company is exhibiting at Arab Health and their plans for the future. 

Strasbourg-based diagnostics company Biosynex develops rapid diagnostic, point of care and PCR solutions. Its portfolio includes a test for COVID-19, which has been a marketing windfall for the business over the past 18 months. 

“The COVID pandemic has allowed us to launch quite a new range of tests from rapid antigen and serological tests as well as a range of PCR tests. Our goal is to expand our business in the Middle East, which is why we’re at Arab Health today,” Biosynex marketing manager Inanna Pinheiro-Gibsone said.

 While the pandemic has been challenging for the business in many ways, it has also given Biosynex an opportunity to grow. “We’ve had many successes with our rapid diagnostic tests, and also our PCR range. It has allowed us to invest in new technologies, such as the LabPad, which is an automated system that is able to not only interpret COVID tests, but also it does an international normalised ratio for coagulation tests,” she explained. Biosynex recently acquired French startup Avalun, the brains behind the LabPad, fuelling further growth for the company. 

 “I think the most important thing for us is to have a partner that has the same values as we do,” Pinheiro-Gibsone said, referring to Biosynex’s track record for multiple acquisitions and global partnerships. “Everyone should be able to have access to diagnostic tests today. That really is our strategy and our mission. We aim to find partners with new innovative technologies that allow us to bring diagnostics tests as close to the patient as possible.”

 As a French leader in diagnostics, Biosynex aims to export their expertise to the global market, which includes key geographies in our region. “We have very good recognition today in France. But our goal now is to expand internationally, and you cannot ignore the Middle East. That’s why we are here with Business France to collaborate at Arab Health,” she added. 

Looking ahead, Pinheiro-Gibsone stresses how Biosynex is eagerly waiting for the end of the pandemic to continue innovating in other areas of healthcare diagnostics. “We look forward to coming back to a situation where we can develop other tests. Our portfolio is extremely wide, from women’s health to HIV, to gluten sensitivity self-tests. We need to learn from the pandemic, take all the resources that we have developed since going through this and develop our business in the future.” 

 

Spotlight: French Healthcare

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Jean-Patrick Lajonchére

France is world-renowned for its unwavering belief in the universality of healthcare. At Arab Health, the France Pavilion featured over 50 businesses featuring top-notch healthcare expertise and technologies. We caught up with Jean-Patrick Lajonchére, director-general of Paris St Joseph Hospital to talk about how the region can boost its healthcare offerings through relevant partnerships. 

Access to healthcare is arguably a fundamental human right. Yet most of the world struggles to provide basic health services to even the most vulnerable groups of people. For Jean-Patrick Lajonchére, director-general of Paris St. Joseph Hospital, the French framework for healthcare is a beacon of hope for the world.

“From the latest advancements in orthopaedics to the applications of artificial intelligence in tackling the global fight against COVID-19, we are here to present the best of our technology and applications for patient care,” he said, speaking at the Business France/French Healthcare stand (Zabeel Hall 2, stand J30) on Tuesday.

The French healthcare system is made up of both public and private hospitals to provide healthcare to every resident in France, regardless of their age, income or citizenship. Access to healthcare is still a huge challenge for much of the world, let alone our region, which is why Lajonchére believes the French model could provide inspiration for the industry at a time when we need it the most. 

French Healthcare is an initiative powered by Business France, which aims to bring French businesses, researchers and healthcare professionals to jointly promote their activities internationally.  “Oncology is our speciality. We are well known in this field and have many Nobel Prizes to our credit. We have many institutes that are very involved in the treatment of cancer.” 

The relationship between the UAE and France in knowledge sharing and support is well documented, particularly in oncology, Lajonchére explained. For French Healthcare, the Middle East and North African region is key, within which the UAE stands out as an integral corridor. 

 “This friendship is well known, especially in oncology. The UAE and all the Gulf countries are very important partners for France because our way of thinking is so similar,” he said. In terms of knowledge sharing, Lajonchére noted that many medical students go to France each year from the region, receive training and give back to their communities. “In a few days, we will have another strategic discussion between the United Arab Emirates and France on how to collaborate more closely on the healthcare system in the coming year,” Lajonchére said. 

Like many countries, France has been very involved in the fight against COVID-19. It has been a hard eighteen months for hospital staff, public policy experts and healthcare suppliers, but according to Lajonchére, the pandemic revealed strengths as well as opportunities within the French framework. “I’m very proud of what has been done over the past year and a half in France. I know we are not unique as a country to respond to the pandemic,” he said. 

Since the pandemic, hospitals across France mobilised staff to come together, the Ministry of Health organised first-responders at regional and national levels and the private sector ramped up partnerships to accelerate research and technology, putting patient care first. 

Business France, in partnership with the French Healthcare Association and the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, features various key players within the French health system at Arab Health. Visit the France Pavilion to learn more about the French health model, research in many fields, pharmaceutical offerings and digital health solutions in Zabeel Hall 2.

French Healthcare has launched a new website, with the latest news, events and innovations in pharma, biotech, medtech and digital health. If you are looking to get innovative solutions, get mappings of French solutions, get medical treatment or training in France, develop a business, medical or scientific partnership with a French firm, or invest in France, please visit www.frenchhealthcare.fr.

Evolucare showcases AI-powered eye health and latest IT healthcare solutions at Arab Health

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Hadi Zarzour, MEA Group Area Manager, Evolucare

Diabetic retinopathy is a growing challenge in the Middle East. A new artificial intelligence (AI)-powered ophthalmological solution, which was on display at Arab Health could help detect and address these issues in a matter of seconds.

Evolucare Technologies designs and develops healthcare software for hospitals, clinics and specialist centres. The French company’s medical platform is an integrated solution that converges patient care, anaesthesia, operating room management, medical imaging, patient records editing, ophthalmological care and more into a cloud-based platform. Also, the company’s business intelligence and analytics system will boost patient outcomes in real-time and improve hospital efficiencies. The 30-year-old family business was set up to help optimise healthcare data for hospital staff across functions. Constant innovation has kept the system agile and responsive to modern challenges, according to Hadi Zarzour, MEA Group Area Manager at Evolucare.

“Whether you are a doctor, nurse or administrative agent in the front office, you will have your own modules and metrics on an interactive dashboard that gives you real-time access to any data set you need to do your job accurately and for the best interest of the patient,” he explained. “It’s a really well designed system that is easy to use and very modern. We forced ourselves to design something that is really that accessible, even if you’re not technologically savvy.”

Exhibiting at Arab Health, the company showcases its latest advancements through a partnership with Fattal.

OphtAI is a key solution on display at the Evolucare stand. It’s the fruit of a long collaboration between Evolucare technologies, Paris University Hospitals and R&D laboratories. The use of AI in image processing and analysis paves the way for massive screening of retinal diseases, in real-time and at a low cost.

“This is one of our key areas of focus for the region because of the various specific challenges here,” Zarzour added. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in the UAE and can lead to irreversible. blindness. Early detection could be invaluable for patients here and beyond, said Zarzour. In a matter of seconds, the OpthAI system can detect eye health issues and pinpoint lesions and other areas of concern for healthcare providers.

“We start with diabetic retinopathy, then we move to glaucoma, macular degeneration and other pathologies,” he added. “We’re still working on different pathologies in order to improve and enrich the algorithm scope for detection.”

For more info visit www.evolucare.com, www.ophtai.com and www.fattal.com.lb

Why we need to drop the sensationalism around AI in healthcare

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In AI circles, Dr Chee is nicknamed the “Consultant's Consultant”, specialising in convergence science and working as a conduit for key stakeholders in the public and private sectors. We spoke to Dr Chee ahead of his presentation at the recently concluded Arab Health’s Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare conference.

Throughout his career, Dr Chee has spearheaded many significant projects across the Asia Pacific and the Middle East. He also serves on committees for Health Level Seven, the World Health Organisation, HL7 Korea-Singapore Research & Innovation Alliance, the Singapore Standards Council and more.

Dr Chee’s presentation was in three parts, starting with what AI really is. “There's a lot of hype in the market these days and a lot of people like to sensationalise what AI is to make it sound a lot more advanced than you’d expect. Real world AI isn’t magic,” he said. 

AI as a concept has been around for decades but is now gaining popularity because of advancements in software and hardware. “The modelling for AI has been around for the longest time, but it’s only now that we have the hardware to turn all those data sets to do the computational effort necessary.” 

With the reduction in hardware cost, the increase in prominence of the power of the cloud now means that anyone can share large data sets easily, and the technology finally has the capability to draw insights from the data. 

While various organisations, governments and private entities have been on a rampage to collect as much data as possible, the truth is that not all of this data is actually usable. Most of the data is collected in a haphazard format so healthcare organisations end up with incomplete or disorganised data. “Unlike finance or logistics, where there are certain rules you follow in data collection, healthcare is more ambiguous,” he said. 

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Dr Adam Chee

Data in healthcare includes electronic medical records in hospitals, and also environmental health, which is overlooked a lot of the time. “I'm sure it’s out there somewhere in the cloud. But we don't marry the two data sets together. There's social data, which a lot of times we may not necessarily have. An individual’s family history, habits, or economic status can all affect their health, but this isn’t something healthcare professionals have access to. So most times, we’re analysing incomplete data that just focuses on physical metrics.”

Another issue that could complicate AI applications in healthcare is that the number-crunchers and statisticians tend not to be trained in healthcare. They may notice obvious errors or biases, but the data fed back to the clinicians is skewed. “It's really a dilemma. You can’t start training on stuff that you don't believe in. Prediction analysis isn’t mature enough to act on,” Dr Chee added. 

He noted that a lot of physicians, clinicians and pharmacists are now opening up to the power of data. “In Singapore, where I'm from, and in some of the areas where I'm travelling to, like Saudi Arabia, UAE, China, Korea, and Japan, we are starting to see more healthcare workers becoming interested in looking at data,” he said. “I've seen a lot of push in continuous education encouraging nurses, physicians, pharmacists etc to take up data science.” Design thinking and digital transformation are also key areas of focus in healthcare where AI can help decision-making for optimum patient outcomes. However, there’s still a lot to be done to get healthcare professionals truly interested in these technologies, said Dr Chee.

“I guess it's a matter of time. Unfortunately, no medical school right now is pushing this as a core curriculum. Of course, I can understand why. They hardly have enough time during their six or seven years of medical education to learn everything. But it needs to be looked at, because soon enough doctors and nurses will realise that a lot of the stuff they learn will be automated. That is how health medicine, in general, is evolving.” 

Impact of COVID-19 on ENT service delivery

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Prof Dr Nirmal Kumar's team was among the first ones in the world to identify the loss of smell as a key COVID-19 symptom. In an interview with Daily Dose, he said that at Arab Health, he participated in a panel discussion that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on ENT. The panel also spoke about developing guidelines that can educate colleagues and clinicians worldwide and provide essential patient information. Excerpts: 

What has been the impact of COVID-19 been on ENT delivery?

We have come a long way in the year and a half since COVID-19 was first identified. In the early days, ENT clinicians were at the forefront, bearing the brunt of the exposure to the virus. At that time, we did not understand the implications. But with the help of guidelines, we ensured the protection for our members. One of the first things we did was to form a COVID-19 response team. We developed guidelines that allowed us to perform surgery safely and test the patients before operations. We started doing what we would term as urgent elective procedures and slowly moved into the elective that means the non-urgent routine operations too. Now, we are back to what we would call a nearly regular service with some changes that are perhaps for the better. The innovation in the delivery of services has been astounding. We are using more digital technologies such as telemedicine, as part and parcel, not in replacement. However, the doctor-patient relationship has to continue, and we need to examine the inside of the nose and throat or the ear. This can't be done in teleconsultation. Therefore, some parts have to revert to standard patient interaction. But some aspects have improved for the better.

For those who have suffered from the loss of taste or smell, how long does it take for them to recover fully? 

One of the acute symptoms of COVID-19 is the loss of sense of smell and taste. Sometimes it preceded other symptoms; sometimes, it was in addition to it. For the vast majority of these patients, 90 per cent of them lost their sense of smell and taste but recovered it within six weeks. Five per cent of them faced a delayed recovery between that was between six weeks to six months. The others developed what is being called as long COVID. This is a post-acute COVID syndrome, in which some patients suffer the debilitating effects of COVID six months after the diagnosis.

For example, if you are a vegetarian and don't eat fish, and if everything smells like fish, it can severely impact one's quality of life. Some patients also sense a burning sensation even when no smoke exists. In the past, we used to see such patients once in a blue moon. But COVID-19 has altered the way the nerve functions between the nose, where the nerve affects the virus and then the transmission of nerve impulses to the brain. That alteration sometimes lasts much longer than six months. This, of course, impacts mental health, and patients have reportedly even suffered from nightmares. 

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Prof Dr Nirmal Kumar

What impact is technology having in improving ENT patient outcomes today? 

In the UK, we are trying to work innovatively with clinicians about how we can see patients more optimally and triage patients with artificial intelligence tools. This will help to get the right patient to the right doctor at the right time and then do the procedure and discharge the patient safely. This will involve innovation using artificial intelligence technology and enhanced learning, which is a term we use for augmented or virtual reality. For example, if you're in the consulting room, you can get the patient's details, not just the X-rays or the scans and the information on a much more real-time basis. This will significantly advance the improvement of healthcare delivery.