Tomorrow’s healthcare will bear little resemblance to today's in terms of how it is provided, financed, and regulated. A number of powerful factors are reshaping the industry, including technological changes, more attention to resilience, agility, and productivity, along with treatment of the whole person. These forces of changes are moving the balance of power in healthcare from providers to patients, globally and in the Middle East. Some of these shifts have happened faster than anticipated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those involved in healthcare—such as governments, regulators, and providers—can seize this chance to take the initiative, rather than wait and react. Together they can craft better healthcare for their populations by collaborating on strategy, policy, and regulation; governance and partnerships; funding and financing; and information and communication technology (ICT) to provide the necessary data infrastructure.
In terms of strategy, policy, and regulation, governments must incorporate healthcare innovation into their national agenda, thereby ensuring support for the work of the healthcare sector. One example is the UAE’s digital health strategy.
Regulations also need to be adopted expeditiously, to keep pace with technological change. Government agencies can encourage innovation by collaborating among themselves to accelerate the creation of frameworks that will underpin future healthcare regulation.
For their part, healthcare regulators should include patient representatives when they design healthcare policies and delivery mechanisms to increase the patient focus of policies. Meanwhile, healthcare providers must develop strategies that emphasise patient experience, personalisation, and coordinated care.
In terms of governance and partnerships, the pandemic demonstrated that disease does not recognise borders. Governments must look beyond their frontiers or the confines of a single department or agency. One way is active engagement with regional or international organisations or cooperating with countries that have dealt with similar circumstances. The European Commission’s international cancer genome consortium is an example of such a partnership.
For providers, the approach should be to structure governance to centre on patients rather than shape care according to administrative systems or medical specialities. This involves organising care around diseases and organ systems, not by medical discipline. Providers need administrative systems that allow easy switching between care channel, as the situation warrants. Providers also can partner with academic institutions and research centres to encourage the development of new therapies, and with public health authorities to craft prevention programmes.
In terms of funding and financing, governments must support investments in local entities doing healthcare R&D, including start-ups working on technology innovations. That appears to be happening, as global health research and innovation budgets are expected to increase through 2025.
For regulators, this means continuing the shift from reimbursing healthcare spending based on volume to value, offering incentives to providers that adopt preventive and virtual care. For example, the Standards for Telehealth Services that the UAE launched in Dubai requires licensed healthcare facilities in the emirate to offer telehealth services. The programme aims to encourage the adoption of similar online health services throughout the country.
To meet new reimbursement models, providers must improve how they manage costs and risks, which could entail workforce retraining. The Dubai Health Authority’s Awtaad initiative, for example, trains doctors, and other healthcare professionals on change management and culture transformation. Professionals who participate bring what they learn back to their workplaces, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care.
In terms of ICT, governments must prioritise digitising healthcare records. Cross-governmental efforts can promote the development of the infrastructure to digitise and integrate patient data from multiple sources. This infrastructure is vital for care to be based on data, and accessible anywhere, anytime.
Governments must also collaborate to protect healthcare data, including creating protocols for information sharing. The Abu Dhabi Department of Health has already launched the Healthcare Information and Cyber Security Standard, which sets out data privacy and security requirements.
Providers can modernise data collection through unified electronic medical records, which give providers a comprehensive view of a patient’s healthcare information. The UAE hopes to digitise all health records and unify them in a single database by 2022. Providers also should adopt data analytics, building capabilities in-house or through partnerships. The Dubai Health Authority collaborated with IBM to develop an artificial intelligence-based analytics platform that monitors vital signs to predict the rate at which a patient’s health could deteriorate.
There is power in numbers. By working together, stakeholders can craft the strategies and policies needed to take advantage of forces transforming healthcare, create governance and funding to support innovation, and develop the necessary data infrastructure.