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Health & tech: Why the latest innovations reduce healthcare costs for your Middle East business

October 18, 2017

The demand for quality healthcare in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has never been higher, with the range of services and advancements constantly evolving. According to the 2015 Deloitte Health Care Outlook Middle East report, the UAE overall healthcare spend is expected to increase by 6.9% a year, reaching USD 19.6bn in 2018.

With the growing global digitisation of the healthcare industry, insurance providers are looking not only to provide the latest products and services in line with the changing needs of their client base, but also to maintain the highest standards without pricing themselves out of the market.

Why the latest innovations could boost your business

So in this age of smart health, what are the popular trends and innovations you should know about when making those key decisions about benefit provision for your workforce?

1. High-tech health: Technology is at the heart of today’s rapid advancement in healthcare. In the Middle East, the use of mobile devices is changing the way healthcare is delivered. More and more health-related queries are driven via smartphones, mobile apps and online healthcare service portals, giving more direct and instant access to doctors and health experts.

More and more health-related queries are driven via smartphones, mobile apps and online healthcare service portals, giving more direct and instant access to doctors and health experts.

Mobile and cloud platforms will not only track patients’ health but also capture data from a variety of sources including phones and wearable devices, analyse recurring patterns, improve diagnosis and treatment and increase overall efficiency. With faster and more specialised equipment, the speed of access to appropriate healthcare is significantly improved.

2. Time for telemedicine: The use of telemedicine is growing in Dubai and other GCC countries, with numerous smartphone apps such as Dubai Doctors, Sehhaty, Health at Hand, Smart Seha and HeyDoc! now offering a range of different health-related features at your fingertips. These include everything from video consultations and online chats with a healthcare professional, to booking appointments, receiving medical test results and finding the location of your nearest healthcare centre.

There are even now telemedicine systems in use for real-time evaluation of stroke patients. The system enables prompt diagnosis and immediate treatment with life-saving therapies by clinical teams situated in a different location to the patient. Being able to deliver crucial treatment so swiftly significantly enhances the patient’s chances of recovery.

In March this year, the RoboDoc telemedicine system was launched in Hatta Hospital, Dubai, after a successful pilot scheme in 2016. RoboDoc is a fully portable medical device that can be controlled remotely via a smartphone. For example, a patient who comes into one hospital with a neurological issue can consult with a neurologist from a different hospital. The technology will let the off-site specialist examine the patient, hold a two-way communication, look at medical reports, diagnose and prescribe. This type of technology helps save valuable time, cuts costs by around half and helps reach a larger number of patients. The service is now being rolled out across all Dubai Health Authority (DHA) hospitals and health centres.

In addition to virtual consulting platforms, other healthcare technologies the UAE is considering include ‘consult stations’, which enable patients to conduct their own check-ups and various tests, including blood pressure, blood glucose levels, hearing and vision. A computer connects the patients, who are based in kiosks, to doctors who guide them through a consultation via a screen on which the test results appear. Medical reports and referral sheets can also be printed out for each patient at the end of the consultation.

3. Data driven: Recording patient data is an essential element to providing better healthcare services and improving overall quality of delivery. Creating countrywide electronic health records can prove to be instrumental in enhancing patient safety. The system would constantly monitor patients for deteriorating vital signs, alerting clinicians as to when intervention is required.

4. Workforce reimagined: Another major trend identified in the healthcare industry going forward is the application of more intelligent technology to interact as ‘team members’ via the use of wearable devices and smart machines. It is predicted that this ‘workforce re-imagined’ trend will transform many healthcare institutions into digital hospitals, with the emphasis on using digital technology to provide more effective, informative and faster diagnoses for patients and practitioners.

It is predicted that this ‘workforce re-imagined’ trend will transform many healthcare institutions into digital hospitals, with the emphasis on using digital technology to provide more effective, informative and faster diagnoses for patients and practitioners.

5. Artificial intelligence and robotics: Experts predict that artificial intelligence (AI) – the creation of intelligent computer systems that are able to perform tasks, learn and even problem-solve without receiving instructions directly from humans – could play an increasingly important role in the delivery of healthcare in the future. In a 2016 analysis by US business consultancy Frost & Sullivan, the market for AI healthcare is projected to reach USD 6.6bn by 2021, a compound annual growth rate of 40%. The report goes on to say that AI has the potential to improve outcomes by as much as 30–40% while cutting treatment costs by as much as 50%. And increasingly studies are showing a growing potential acceptance among would-be patients when it comes to the idea of a robot performing a minor surgical procedure instead of a doctor.

6. Smart pharmacy: Earlier this year, the DHA launched its first ‘smart pharmacy’, which used a robot to prescribe medication after reading a unique barcode. With the click of a button, the robot can dispense up to 12 prescriptions in less than one minute, drastically reducing a patient’s waiting time. This type of dispensing process is also paper-free, as the robot stores the prescription as soon as the doctor documents it electronically.

Using such technology helps improve the safety of patients by reducing the chance of human error when dispensing medication. It also frees up the pharmacist to focus on giving advice and instruction to the patient on appropriate medication and how to take it.

7. Medical 3D printing: One of the most exciting advances in healthcare on the horizon is the evolution of 3D printing – the process of making three-dimensional objects from a digital file made by fusing or depositing materials such as plastic, metal, ceramics, powders, liquids, or even living cells. In medicine it’s already used for dental implants and limb prosthetics as well as replacements for jaws and hips.

Hospitals in Dubai propose to use 3D printers to prepare surgeons for medical procedures by creating a 3D version of the anatomical area that will undergo surgery. This advanced information will then help prepare medical teams before heading to the operating room, help accelerate the surgeries, cutting costs and risks in the process, while assisting patients in understanding the procedures they will undergo. The DHA says the use of 3D printing could accelerate patients’ healing process by 40–80%.

Find your healthcare partner

The effective delivery of these numerous healthcare initiatives is fundamental to their success. The industry is seeing the creation of innovative strategic collaborations to bring this new smart health to market. This includes the emergence of public-private partnerships, when the private sector is incentivised to invest and manage operations while the public sector becomes the regulator. Last year, a public-private partnership was formed between the UAE Ministry of Health, Abu Dhabi International Medical Services and GE Healthcare to achieve better outcomes around improved access, speed and quality of healthcare.

The industry is seeing the creation of innovative strategic collaborations to bring this new smart health to market.

These are exciting times for healthcare innovation and the potential improvements and benefits they can bring. Understanding what the future may hold is essential for any business looking to invest in the best possible healthcare package for its workforce. Doing your research now, and seeking expert advice to keep up-to-date with the latest medical trends is crucial. Not only will it help you formulate the most informed healthcare package, it will also provide the best-quality and most cost-effective products and services to keep your employees healthy, happy and engaged.

About the author: Nausheen Popat, Founder & Chief Operating Officer

Nausheen Popat cofounded Lifecare 20 years ago with Alniz Popat, and is today responsible for managing and coordinating the operational running of the business across Dubai, Kenya and Qatar. Nausheen focuses on delivering Lifecare’s operational excellence strategic initiatives. She has been integral in developing relationships with customers and major service providers in the market in order to promote strategic partnerships that serve our clients and promote the growth of the business. Nausheen is a graduate of the University of Northridge, California and holds a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management.