Digital future for healthcare

Healthcare providers look to harness new technologies to improve standards of care, extract information from new sources of data, and provide better support for healthcare professionals.

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Digital future for healthcare The healthcare sector is adopting new IT solutions in several different areas, although there are specific challenges relating to data security in the sector.
By  Keri Allan Published  September 14, 2014

Adoption of IT within the Middle East’s healthcare industry varies greatly from country to country, however advances are being made across the board via a variety of solutions.

“In many countries in the region, the use of healthcare IT is reasonably advanced, such as the Wareed System in the public hospitals and clinics of the five Northern Emirates [UAE] providing advanced integrated administrative and clinical systems. In addition, SEHA in Abu Dhabi links hospitals and clinics together with similar advanced capabilities. Qatar is on its journey to integrate all its hospitals and clinics. Others such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have a less well-developed programme, with isolated pockets of good adoption and usage,” says Dr Colin Fincham, Director and Chief Medical Officer at Cerner Middle East.

The fact that the Middle East may be a step or two behind some western countries does actually offer some benefits:  the region can learn from the lessons of others as well as bypass legacy issues.

“What’s great about coming from a position of ‘youth’ when it comes to the overall history and evolution of the healthcare system, is that there is far less legacy to deal with – in terms of investment, systems and political capital,” notes Ali A. Hashemi, Director of Amana Healthcare. “For this reason, there are really interesting opportunities for players in the region to leapfrog ahead of their more mature market counterparts.

“All stakeholders with whom we are engaged are not only interested in seeing more adoption of intelligent IT-based solutions in the healthcare environment, but government stakeholders are helping to ensure that the regulatory frameworks to enable the implementation of these technologies is in place,” he adds.

There are several drivers specific to the Middle East, as Guiseppe Catania, MEA Channel Manager, Healthcare, Infor highlights.

“The regional demographic drivers on healthcare demand, if anything are more pronounced in Middle East countries. There are additional drivers for increased technology use such as genetic disorders particular to the population and also medical tourism – [centres] ability to attract patients will in some part depend on their use of IT technology that supports global best practice,” he notes.

Many technologies are impacting on healthcare, and these can be summed up into three broad categories; improving data collection, organisation and storage; improving internal processes and operating efficiency; and improving communication.

“Doctors and nurses are embracing the use of tablets and smartphones in their workflow due to better flexibility and mobility,” says Waseem Taqqali, Vice President - Professional Services and Smart Cities, Schneider Electric. “Adopting a BYOD strategy gives clinical staff real-time data. Also cloud computing can change the dynamics of the healthcare information industry over time. Key technologies impacting healthcare [include] BYOD, big data, mobile technologies and soft electronic healthcare records.”

Indeed, one of the highest priorities across GCC countries is the rolling out of electronic health records (EHRs) initiatives, and this has been one of the biggest pushes in healthcare IT adoption. But, as Hugh Haskell-Thomas, Principal Consultant, Azimuth highlights, there are still some issues: “The recent drive, worldwide, to bring in the EHR has the greatest potential for change in the provision of healthcare.

However, the security concerns surrounding the EHR are still preventing widespread adoption. These concerns will not go away in the near future, in my opinion, though it is in the industry’s hands to show their patients that the benefits outweigh the risk; the global use of EHRs is inevitable but it will be a long battle for the industry in many countries.”

Of course, security of patient data is of paramount importance and standards need to be in place. This is an area regional vendors believe needs to be further developed. At the moment countries are working with different standards and laws and many experts believe one all encompassing standard should be decided upon.

“There is a multitude of laws impacting the standards of securing data in healthcare, but not a single comprehensive one,” says Sandeep Sinha, Vice President, Healthcare Practice, Middle East, North Africa and South Asia at Frost & Sullivan.

“Every country has a discrete set of guidelines under laws which are somehow related to healthcare setups such as labour law, medical liability law, telecommunications law etc. There are no pan-Arabic laws governing data protection and privacy in the Middle East region as found in dominions in the European Union.”

“We do see global standards being adopted both for ease of interoperability while sharing patient data as well as to ensure privacy and confidentiality,” says Stephen Fernandes, AVP and Regional Head — ME, Cognizant.

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