High-tech hospitals: Leading the way in cutting-edge technology in the region

As the domestic health care sector continues to grow, Dubai has become a home to some of the sector’s most cutting edge innovations and the regional centre for many companies that are developing and delivering these technologies. Not only does the emirate boast a range of private hospitals and clinics, but the government has made information and communications technology (ICT) innovations in health care an essential part of its Smart Government initiative to modernise everyday life in the emirate.

US research firm Gartner reported that health care providers in the Middle East and Africa spent $4.3bn on IT products in 2012 and forecast an increase to $4.4bn in 2013. Some of this expenditure is to upgrade current hospitals, but a significant portion will also be used to equip the new public and private facilities that are currently being developed throughout the region. Dubai’s business-friendly environment, which has already made it a regional centre for business ICT services, has the emirate poised to capitalise on these opportunities and continue solidifying its role as a centre for medical ICT solutions as well.

State Investments

 Unlike many countries where ICT innovations are driven by the private sector, Dubai’s government has led a push to create easy and fully mobile interactions with the population through its Smart Government initiative. Developing new health care ICT solutions for patients and public facilities is an important piece of this broader strategy, as Essa Al Haj Al Maidoor, the director-general of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), told OBG, “In line with the Smart Government initiative launched by Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, the DHA has chalked out a roadmap towards total IT solutions that will significantly enhance not only the customer experience but also the manner in which health care is delivered and managed.”

Already partially implemented, the DHA’s projects that form part of the Dubai Health Strategy 2013-25 are designed to enhance patients’ experiences before, during and after visiting a doctor or hospital. It will also empower doctors with information and tools, which will allow them to better treat patients. Specific areas of focus are patient feedback, payment, medical information for patients, tracking children’s vaccination schedules, as well as special software and hardware for doctors, nurses and other staff.

Investment

In October 2013, the DHA announced plans to invest Dh250m ($68.05m) to digitise all of its medical records. It has already reached an agreement with a partner, and will roll out the project for DHA hospitals and clinics in phases, starting in 2014. Eventually, the personalised information will be linked to a card or wristband that will allow patients and doctors to interact with tablets, smartphones and large screens that will be installed throughout the facilities.

In addition, the government has also announced a Dh3bn ($816.6m) expansion of Rashid Hospital and has plans for three new hospitals and 40 new clinics to be completed by 2025, all of which the government aims to equip with modern ICT systems.

Private Demand

 In response to local and international demand, private care providers have been expanding their footprint in the emirate. Mediclinic, one of the largest private health care providers in Dubai, is currently building an addition to their largest hospital. Meanwhile, 2012 brought with it the opening of the latest private hospital: the Saudi German Hospital in Dubai. With many Western expatriates, a wealthy national population and increasing medical tourism, private facilities in Dubai have turned to ICT solutions to improve their staff’s productivity, as well as their patients’ experience. Dr Maha Aledan, former CEO of the Saudi German Hospital-Dubai, explained the advantages of ICT investments. “The UAE’s medical technology is meant to help our experts, not replace them,” she told OBG. “Patients can rest assured that they are in the safe hands of some of the world’s foremost specialists. This reassurance is vital, because we know from numerous placebo experiments that patients can recover better when they are psychologically confident in our capabilities.”

While technological innovations are important, private health care providers are wary of spending on IT just for the sake of being modern. They must be convinced that they will be getting a return on their investment and that it is done with the goal to enhance the treatment of patients. Tarek Fathey, director of Mediclinic City Hospital, explained, “We shouldn’t lose focus on the patient. At the end of the day health care providers are there to provide care to patients.”

Hardware

Software development and mobile apps have been a key focus of the government’s plans, but many private health care facilities, and even DHA-run hospitals, are now seeing hardware as the weakest link in the ICT chain. “I think the need now is in hardware, not in software,” Fathey said. “In feedback from patients and doctors we hear that doctors can sometimes spend more time entering data than with the patient.” Tablets and other devices that can be put directly into the exam rooms are growing in popularity and might become commonplace in the near future.

As part of its modernisation designs, the DHA has announced plans to introduce 3000 tablets to its hospitals and specialist centres. Faisal Ali Mousa, chairman of FAM Holding, the firm partnering with the DHA on the project, explained, “Patients will be able to browse information that is useful for them. This includes all DHA, pharmacy and other health services such as physiotherapy and rehabilitation services.”

Regional Demand

 Throughout the region, areas that may never have had IT solutions for hospitals and clinics are investing in ways that will allow them bypass many of the older technologies and go straight from traditional paper-based systems to mobile software and hardware. According to Gartner, in addition to the growth in health care IT product sales in the Middle East and Africa, sector-specific IT spending hit $436m in 2012 and the firm expected to see growth of 5.9% in 2013. “The Middle East and Dubai are interesting markets in their investment strategies because they are very much inclined to invest in state-of-the-art technologies even if starting from scratch,” Waclaw Lukowicz, former CEO of Siemens Health care Middle East and Africa Cluster, told OBG.

The Omani and Saudi Arabia governments have been especially active in investing in new, modern facilities, and are key markets for many of the Dubai-based companies looking to provide ICT products and services to the health care sector in the region. For Saudi Arabia, the push for new health centres comes from a lack of space to treat their population – they currently have only 2.2 beds per 1000 people and aim to raise that ratio to 3.5 through new facilities already in various stages of design and construction. Oman’s investments will first be focused on its International Medical City, the $1bn medical centre currently under construction, but will also include several regional hospitals and a second medical centre that was announced in late 2013 and is expected to cost $1.5bn.

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The Report: Dubai 2014

Health chapter from The Report: Dubai 2014

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