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How prepared are GCC healthcare systems to face a post-pandemic world?

How prepared are GCC healthcare systems to face a post-pandemic world?

Technology is changing the face of healthcare in the wake of the pandemic, says Dr. Damien Ng, Next Generation analyst at Swiss wealth manager Julius Baer

If you could mention four ways technology is changing healthcare systems around the world, what would they be and why?

Electronic health records (EHR) are definitely one of the technologies that most of us can relate to during our visits at the doctor’s office. Remember the days when administrative assistants had to maintain a huge quantity of paper medical records, which were often manually written in an illegible manner that rendered them inaccessible for patients? Therefore, the desire to reduce manual processes and improve efficiency is leading to the further digitalisation of medical files in the form of EHR.

Telemedicine is also changing the way healthcare providers deliver their services to patients. Due to shifting consumer preferences for convenience and affordability, consumers can gain access to an extensive range of medical information anytime and anywhere. Put differently, healthcare is no longer limited to the specific opening hours and confines of the doctor’s office, but it also includes locations like your home, workplace or holiday destination thanks to digital technologies.

The third technology is in the domain of mobile health. These may include blood glucose monitors and patches that track medication adherence of patients. In fact, they were already deployed to improve the overall experience of diabetic patients due to the increasing prevalence of the disease worldwide.

Finally, a lot of progress has been achieved in the field of medtech. Take intraocular lenses (IOLs) for instance. These lenses are medical devices that are implanted inside the eye to replace the eye’s natural lens. Given the growing prevalence of myopia across the world, patients may opt for IOL surgery procedures to correct the refractive error caused by myopia due to medical, cosmetic or lifestyle reasons.

Post Covid-19, what will a resilient healthcare system look like?

The weakness of the present healthcare system revealed by the Covid-19 crisis, along with the rise in chronic diseases associated with lifestyle changes and a rapidly ageing population worldwide, has certainly highlighted the urgent need to make our healthcare system more resilient for future health threats.

In particular, digital-health technologies in the areas of telemedicine, remote health monitoring and medtech should see further up-side potential over the longer term, given the political tailwinds, momentous demographic forces across the world, the rise of chronic diseases associated with ageing, as well as the growing financial burden of medical care.

How prepared are the healthcare systems in the Gulf countries to face a post-pandemic world?

As data from Johns Hopkins University revealed, there were nearly 85,000 (193 deaths per million population), 352,000 (160 deaths per million population), and 148,000 (53 deaths per million population) confirmed cases in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE as of November 12, respectively. One of the reasons for the comparatively low mortality rate in the Gulf region lies in the readiness of countries like the UAE and Bahrain to use diagnostic tests to stem the further spread of the coronavirus. After all, if the virus is invisible to the naked eyes, there is no way medical professionals can identify and eventually tackle the problem. In addition to the diagnostic tests, citizens should work hand in hand with their local public-health authorities to overcome the health crisis.

This includes following the recommendations from their local health authorities and the World Health Organization on social distancing rules and the wearing of a mask. This way, our society will be better prepared to tackle present and future pandemics.

According to your recent research, digital health, genomics and extended longevity are the three trends that will shape the future of healthcare. Why specifically these?

It is no secret that medical bills have been rising over the past few decades due to a combination of factors ranging from a growing incidence of chronic diseases associated with lifestyle changes to the global phenomenon of population ageing and extended longevity.

This inevitably has the effect of exerting immense financial burden on families and individuals, particularly those with lower incomes, as they are more likely to struggle with the unaffordability of medical resources. It is for this reason that governments, medical professionals and insurance companies are increasingly turning to digital-health technologies to keep a lid on burgeoning healthcare costs.

At the same time, we must not forget that there are still around 6,000 diseases that do not have a cure despite the tremendous medical progress that has been achieved over the past few decades, rendering the research and development of genomics ever more important.

Genomics, in particular in the area of precision medicine, will undoubtedly exert a positive effect on the way health professionals care for their patients. For instance, two persons having breast cancer may be suffering from the same cancer type but at the molecular level under the microscope, the cancerous cells may look very different between both individuals.

Put differently, tailor-made treatments for individuals should gain greater importance in the future as gene-based diagnoses and therapies become more personalised for the patient.

How will technology benefit healthcare facilities as well as older patients?

Ageing is often associated with the onset of chronic diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s, as well as other age-related health conditions concerning the eyes, teeth and ears.

In view of the increasing frailty of old age and their shifting lifestyle preferences for greater autonomy and independence, a wide range of services and support such as blood-glucose monitors and hearing aids have been made available for senior citizens via health technologies.

Furthermore, hospital re-admissions may be required for some post-operative patients due to the onset of health complications. This could include elderly cardiac patients suffering from infection at the site of a surgical incision or discharged patients experiencing indistinct symptoms such as dizziness or a spike in blood pressure.

As most of these concerns could be monitored and effectively treated without hospitalisation, physicians are increasingly turning to mobile-health technologies to minimise readmissions and improve outcomes.

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