The widespread benefits of the unified medical records system Abu Dhabi intends to have in place by 2022 are obvious. Patients will have the reassurance of knowing that wherever and whenever they fall ill, the doctor who is treating them will have immediate access to their full medical history.
Doctors caring for patients they have never met before will have the confidence of knowing there is no hidden condition or undeclared medication that might compromise the treatment plan they are proposing. Insurers and healthcare providers will be able to eradicate the cost of duplicated diagnostic procedures, repeat lab testing and the unnecessary prescription of drugs, weeding out inefficiencies in a system that faces ever greater demands from a population that is both growing – and growing older.
But perhaps the greatest gift of the planned Health Information Exchange system is its potential as a vast research tool. For the first time, researchers will be able to monitor the health status and medical history of an entire population, mining valuable insights from a vast treasure trove of data.
Public health planners will be able to identify and act swiftly on disease trends. Potential epidemics could be spotted and tracked in real time and dealt with before they take hold. The true scale of major health problems, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, will be clearly seen and can be better tackled as a result.
Setting up such a complex system won’t be easy. Other countries have tried and faced challenges. The UK’s National Health Service struggled for years to create a similar unified database before scrapping it in 2016 after it became clear that many patients would opt out, fearing for the safety of their personal data. In the UAE, too, many will also doubtless have concerns over privacy.
Part of the challenge facing those behind Health Information Exchange will be to reassure the public that the system will be secure. Doubtless there will be challenges. But none are a reason not to press ahead with an ambitious scheme that could revolutionise healthcare for everyone's benefit.