The cutting edge

Healthcare IT is one of the few areas in the region that is still experiencing significant growth. Piers Ford speaks to a number of prominent vendors from across the region about what is driving this boom.

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By  Piers Ford Published  March 21, 2009

Healthcare IT is one of the few areas in the region that is still experiencing significant growth. Piers Ford speaks to a number of prominent vendors from across the region about what is driving this boom.

Healthcare in the Middle East is at an exciting crossroads and new technology will play a vital role both in service delivery and in supporting the streamlining and automation that inevitably comes with the business imperatives of privatisation. This is the general view of IT vendors as they survey a sector that has gone through a momentous change during the last three decades.

Numerous projects ranging from individual hospitals to initiatives like Dubai Healthcare City, a lynchpin of the emirate's drive to become a world-class healthcare provider by 2010, have challenged technology suppliers to deliver appropriate infrastructures and applications.

In the UAE, this has underpinned the evolution of the Ministry of Health's major hospital network, from the computerisation of registration, appointments and laboratory data management in the early 1990s through back office, financial and supply chain management and on to the creation of a central patent index. All of which has taken place in tandem with a strong undercurrent of privatisation and - with a steady rise in population and demand for services - cost management.

"Hospitals, their executive teams, and management companies across the region are focused on several key imperatives," says Matthew Mueller, director of services at E3, which sells Lawson healthcare management software as part of its product portfolio in the Middle East.

"Most importantly, improving patient care, followed by patient satisfaction, operational efficiency, and cost-effective management and compliance. The increasing pressure to boost revenue and control costs, all while meeting the demand for the very best in patient care, means CIOs are consequently tasked with modernising healthcare and business processes without changing the budget."

Prominent vendor Cerner entered the KSA market 15 years ago and now supplies technology to the Ministry of Health in the five northern emirates as well as doing work in Qatar and for the Children's Cancer Hospital in Cairo. Middle East VP and general manager Rich Berner says it's an exciting time to be in healthcare.

"I've been in Dubai for a year and the vision and size of projects is very impressive. The market is unique in that there is still a small number of people who control healthcare delivery and that means we have opportunities to do things that can't be done anywhere else, like the one patient/one record system in the UAE which means that wherever you go, the provider will have access to your data."

That kind of infrastructure would be the envy of many western countries' healthcare providers, but even in the Middle East, it throws up specific challenges for CIOs as they seek to integrate the benefits of new technology with legacy networks that may themselves be just a few years old.

"There are two camps within healthcare in the Middle East," says Dave Kelly, VP of international sales at wireless LAN specialist Meru Networks, which has established a strong presence in Dubai and signed a distribution deal with Oonline across the Middle East in 2008.

"The new build environments have the chance to go with the leading edge and look to the future with a pure wireless environment. For the established healthcare facilities, they are seeing more and more vendors bringing in devices in a wireless way," he says.

"So those hospitals need to be able to integrate it wirelessly into their existing infrastructure. Interoperability within the healthcare environment - whether it be PDAs or wireless medical equipment like heart monitors or automated drips - is vital. Reliability and speed of data delivery is also the key. Data is really important: patients can't afford to wait. Mistakes and unreliable communications are too costly on all levels within a healthcare environment," concludes Kelly.

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