Going high-tech: Using advanced systems to improve care

A radio-wave monitoring system that enables new mothers to ensure they leave the hospital with the right baby, a photo-sharing service for X-rays and an infectious disease alert service are among the dozens of new information technology (IT) services being used by medical practitioners in Saudi Arabia today. With record spending on health care in 2014, the International Data Corporation estimates there will be an 11% increase in the size of the Kingdom’s health care IT market.

DIAGNOSTIC DATA: Beginning in February 2014, almost 80,000 doctors across all the country’s public and private hospitals and primary care centres were given free access to two online databases of physician-authored knowledge designed to help with diagnosis. The deals signed with the UK’s British Medical Journal and Wolters Kluwer Health will enable medical professionals to access up to 10m pieces of data. Wolters Kluwer Health agreed to a five-year partnership to provide its UpToDate service, which is also available as an application for smartphones and tablets. The minister of health, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Rabeeah, launched the two services in Saudi Arabia in February 2014, and said the databases would enable medical staff to make the best evidence-based decisions and keep up to date with the latest clinical information. The Ministry of Health (MoH) says it is implementing 85 IT projects and working on another 22 initiatives to improve the acquisition, storage and sharing of data across all tiers of the health service.

HEALTH INFORMATION: In the 2014 budget statement, officials confirmed that approval was given for a national centre for health information systems and a national centre for disease prevention and control. Another IT system that was recently rolled out across the health services infrastructure is the epidemiological and infectious disease prevention programme, which allows health care workers to gather, exchange and analyse clinical notes, thereby improving the efficacy of infectious disease management. In the first stage of the project’s implementation the Neonatal Protection System has been introduced to 16 gynaecology and maternity hospitals, enabling staff to clearly identify newborn babies and prevent cases of mistaken identity or attempted abduction. Other software platforms being introduced across the Saudi health sector enable patients’ records to be accessed easily anywhere in the system. “What we are hoping is to have a unified records system using the patients’ national number as an identifier,” explained Mostafa Youssef, medical director of King Fahad Medical City. “Using this number would allow for a better utilisation of care. It would also prevent, for instance, patients taking medication from a number of different centres or shopping around unnecessarily for treatment.”

RESEARCH POTENTIAL: IT also offers researchers and doctors the potential to collect, mine and analyse complex data samples as part of the quest for greater understanding and potential cures for the future. A pioneering piece of research being developed in parallel with a study in the UK will see 100,000 Saudis have their genetic code mapped in a new human genome project, which will be based at 10 genome centres across the country. “The sector has only recently begun to realise the importance of data management and electronic records,” Saleh Al Tamimi, CEO of King Saud Medical City, told OBG. “We are now seeing movement in the right direction regarding investment in IT platforms, which is necessary as there remains a great deal of catching up to do.”

With money to invest and the inclination to experiment with IT systems that help in the treatment of patients, the effective administration of the health service and the sharing of important information and knowledge, Saudi Arabia’s MoH is clearly interested in pursuing software or hardware solutions that will enable the government to improve its work and help practitioners strive for clinical excellence.

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The Report: Saudi Arabia 2014

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