Why the digitalisation of health care is leading to better decision-making

The ability to gather regular data outside of traditional healthcare settings provides clinicians with a much clearer picture of a patient's health

closeup of a young caucasian doctor man sitting at his office desk observing a chest radiograph in a tablet computer

Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity to reinvent the healthcare system in the Middle East.

In the past, the focus was centred around physical hospital infrastructure, but now the changing healthcare systems in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have shown there is a fundamental opportunity to accelerate the digital transformation of primary and community care.

One of the few positives of the pandemic is that it has acted as a catalyst for digital transformation. Countries around the world are struggling to manage ageing populations and long term health conditions so it is simply not feasible to have patients continually going back and forth to hospital beds. In this day and age, we can and should do better than that.

What is needed is a healthcare system that helps meet the needs of the individual patient to drive a better experience and ultimately better outcomes.

The digitalisation of healthcare will benefit both health providers and patients alike. Through digitalisation, countries in the region have the opportunity to become world-class centres of excellence for healthcare.

To do this, we must look at the role that technology plays in aiding this vision on a micro level. It’s a mindset change as well, but we are already making strides – an example is that people are getting used to making appointments online, and in some cases, having video consultations with clinicians rather than face-to-face appointments.

One of the most significant strides forward this year is the adoption of remote care monitoring, which allows digital technologies to monitor patient care without the need for a clinician physically being with the patient.. From taking vital signs such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels and temperatures, technology allows for the accurate detection or deterioration of chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease without having to visit emergency departments.

Ultimately, this is about using technology to gather patient data outside of traditional healthcare settings. It is about moving healthcare into the house and bridging that space where people live, work and play. By managing this remotely within people's homes, comfort and engagement levels increase – and by increasing engagement, remote patient monitoring can help improve quality of care. Clinicians are also provided with a steady stream of data that provides a much clearer picture of the patients’ health.

We see this exemplified through The Remote Healthcare Platform in Abu Dhabi. The platform allows patients to access prescription renewals, especially if they are a category that require isolation from other members of the community because of their vulnerabilities.

Digitalisation is also being accelerated in Saudi Arabia's new model of care, which offers a range of healthcare services including assistance to patients self-isolating during Covid-19, at-home consultations and greater connectivity and communication between health providers and the patient. We are seeing very clearly how the pandemic has prompted people to think differently, with technology being the enabler.

We are also seeing the rapid acceleration of real-time tracking of equipment in hospitals. For example, heart monitors or infusion pumps are tracked, which helps us to deploy resources more efficiently across hospitals.

The additional data being created can be analysed through artificial intelligence, but we need to find ways of making sure this doesn’t overwhelm the clinician with too much information.

It is about providing time-pressed clinicians with information that is easy to read and disseminate. This allows them to make better informed decisions and focus on what matters the most: delivering world-class care to the patient.

This is exemplified through Abu Dhabi’s central patient record, Malaffi, which allows 2,000 care providers in Abu Dhabi to share information about patients to aid decision-making processes. It provides patients with more choice and prevents duplication within the system, thus creating a better patient.

This is where the care given within the hospital environment and care given outside the hospital needs to be bridged. Once a patient is discharged, technology helps through providing a connection back to the health provider. This data allows effective monitoring of the patient’s condition  – their blood pressure, weight, temperature or other conditions –and encourages patients to be more actively involved in the management of their condition, building up good habits of self-care. This, coupled with the analysis of the data, showcases the impact digitilisation has on healthcare.

In 2020, digitilisation in the healthcare sector has progressed in leaps and bounds. The case for this is powerful: in the quest to deliver exceptional care for patients, technology is empowering more community care; patients who don’t need to be in hospital can be monitored and recover from home.

Digitalisation is allowing us to track equipment and analyse data to distill key information in ways that empower better and faster decision-making. Ultimately, when it comes to the long-term future of healthcare and economies in the Middle East, technology is the ticket to unlocking better outcomes for all.

Andrew Wells is client director of healthcare at Serco Middle East and Andrew Price is director at Serco's Global Healthcare Centre of Excellence