Economic View


On how technology is revolutionising health care

To what extent is digitisation improving the provision of health care services in the UAE?

MICHAEL SCHELPER: If you look at the region, the UAE is leading the way in digitisation of the health care space. The majority of institutions already have pretty effective systems in place and are working to expand them even further. For most institutions, establishing an administrative system that centralised all medical records on one database was the first step, and now many are branching out to encompass other specialities and processes, all the while ensuring that these new systems are seamlessly integrated and that information can flow unencumbered between each.

On a practical level, this frees up time for care providers and clinical practitioners, allowing them to focus on treating patients and helping them live a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, if a nurse or doctor is no longer required to manually collect and input patient vital signs, it allows them to concentrate more on delivering care to their patients.

The National Unified Medical Record (NUMR) that is being implemented in Dubai will expand this central database function, so that it can operate on a nationwide basis. This will make it easier for information to be shared not just within a single institution, but also with all institutions across the UAE. For instance, your general practitioner will be able to easily share information with a specialist at a hospital, who will then be able to share information with your physiotherapist – all without having to physically send the information to the other person. Streamlining processes in this way will allow health care providers to focus on patient needs.

How are health-focused applications and technologies facilitating better health care?

SCHELPER: There are many health applications, with a high number of them designed for the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases that are common in the region, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and asthma. More and more diabetes patients, for example, have a tracker at home that monitors their blood sugar levels and sends reports to doctors, allowing practitioners to proactively manage a patient’s health and provide guidance. While pilot programmes like this have only been trialled in a few hospitals, they have shown positive results, so it is likely that similar programmes will be rolled out more extensively across the country in the near future. Once NUMR is in place it will be easier to implement large-scale, population-wide initiatives for health management.

What role does the government play in promoting the adoption of new and innovative technologies in the health care sector?

SCHELPER: The UAE, and by extension Dubai, has the potential to leapfrog many more-developed countries in the health care space, mostly as a result of the proactive initiatives currently being pushed by the country’s leadership. Already, public institutions such as Abu Dhabi Health Services Company are utilising artificial intelligence (AI) in the oncology space, as it proved to be tremendously accurate in making diagnoses when trialled in other countries. AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated in diagnosing and prescribing treatments for diseases, allowing doctors to focus less on data collection and more on preventative care, as well as the coaching and guiding of their patients. Not only do such technologies free up time for practitioners, but they also promote knowledge sharing and more standardised recommendations and feedback, especially for routine ailments like the common cold. Essentially, it takes human error out of the treatment equation.

Technological advancements allow for greater data collection to take place before the patient even arrives at a medical facility. For example, there is a special type of clothing already being used, which can monitor blood pressure, temperature and other vital signs of the individual wearing it, with that information sent straight to primary care providers.

The UAE is committed to using technology to better the lives of its people. The country’s strategy of creating connected, digitised hospitals – alongside smart data-sharing initiatives – shows that the UAE is embracing innovative solutions.