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Revealed: 10 things MENA healthcare providers need to do now to improve their services

Revealed: 10 things MENA healthcare providers need to do now to improve their services

It is critical for regional healthcare providers to augment, improve and enhance their digital health readiness and footprint

Health systems across the globe have been significantly tested, strained, and impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

Governments have scrambled to introduce guidelines and streamline health system capacity, while trying to improve connectivity and access to critical care to meet the needs of their patient communities.

Prior to the pandemic, regulators, payors, and providers, along with innovative pharma companies and medtech players, were investing in integrating patient data and improving connectivity and interoperability of electronic health records. The purpose was to better connect the dots, improve diagnosis and treatment pathways, facilitate the efficacy of and adherence to drugs, as well as cost containment and ensuring the sustainability of health system financing.

The need to do this has grown in importance as health professionals can treat medical conditions only when they know more about their patient’s history. A holistic and patient-centric understanding of an individual’s health and risk profile will deliver better outcomes and help contain costs in the long term, allowing the medical community to deliver population-focused health programmes and evolve to a system that offers ‘healthcare’ rather than ‘sick care’.

We are also now seeing a strong effort to drive investment in digital health services and integrating telehealth services within payor platforms and models of care, further spurred by Covid-19. For instance, global insurance provider Aetna began telehealth services for its members under a brand called vHealth in 2018.

In 2019, the services were extended to include on-site virtual clinics in large corporate organisations, lab testing, and sample collection. This year, vHealth introduced a patient application, which uses virtual primary care as the first point of contact prior to accessing the specialist healthcare system.

For the first half of the year, January–June 2020, the number of members on vHealth went up by 100 per cent, consults delivered per week rose by almost 400 per cent and utilisation grew from 40 per cent to 60 per cent as a result of the increased members.

Clinician-to-clinician telehealth solutions are also witnessing a surge in activity with the aim of improving access to specialists, quality of care, and efficiency.

One Dubai-based platform, Ver2, serves the business-to-business market with its customers including hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, governments, and medical schools. Platforms such as this are helping grow the healthcare workforce capacity.

For healthcare providers with brick-and-mortar infrastructure and with patient volumes and revenues driven by elective health procedures, Covid-19 caused a drastic shift in demand and activity. While hospitals have been busy treating and supporting coronavirus patients, much of outpatient and inpatient medical care, including elective procedures, has drawn to a halt – driven by patient safety reasons and health risks for both the patients and the medical professionals.

In addition, patients have mostly shifted to receiving medical consultations through telehealth platforms, and are expected to continue to do so, particularly when the issue relates to a lower acuity episode and one that can be properly diagnosed, treated, and followed up through the platform. Moving forward, the hospitals and health facilities networks that make the necessary investments in technology – particularly in AI – will be best placed to translate their investments into success and sustainability. According to market intelligence firm Tractica, the potential revenue opportunity for healthcare AI will exceed $34bn by 2025.

While AI is already playing its part by automating routine healthcare-related processes and services in mature and emerging markets, its true benefit will be realised when it is used in drug discovery and research for new vaccines and therapeutics, precision medicine, diagnostic imaging, and genomics.

It is therefore critical for healthcare providers to augment, improve, and enhance their digital health readiness and footprint. To be effective, healthcare providers in the private sector need to:

1. Support and invest in the integration of health records and connected health information networks with other public and private health providers.
2. Invest and augment the IT and telecommunications infrastructure to enable secure patient data transmission.
3. Create a centre of excellence for digital health, with a suite of services that support patient access to real time triage, diagnosis, and monitoring of conditions.
4. Train and develop health professionals across the system to effectively harness the power of technology and track patient history to deliver tailored care.
5. Adopt and participate in value-based healthcare programmes with other stakeholders and collaborators across the value chain for patients with chronic diseases and disabilities.
6. Use patient data at an aggregated level to enhance physician training and continue medical education programmes, biomedical and clinical innovations, and to develop population
wellness and awareness programmes.
7. Re-design clinical and operational workflows to adopt a coordinated model of care that allows for collaboration with stakeholders to provide best-in-class patient services
8. Use AI and deep-learning algorithms to predict and diagnose diseases early on, as well as ensure that new technology augments the work of the clinical workforce.
9. Take a security-first approach to supporting the safety of patient information and electronic records.
10. Adopt applications that adapt and evolve to changing standards and regulations.

The effective adoption and integration of genomics, the internet of medical things, and mobile health apps will give healthcare stakeholders the ability to access new patterns and results in real time.

In addition, having a holistic view of a patient’s medical history will provide medical professionals with the opportunity to prevent and minimise the risk of disease, allow for early interventions, avoid adverse reactions, and offer treatment with much greater precision.

Ahmed Faiyaz is a director at Ernst & Young

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