The GCC region is responding well to increasing healthcare requirements of its population by investing heavily in healthcare information technology (IT). According to a new report by Frost & Sullivan, GCC governments will be required to invest more than $550m by 2015 in this healthcare sector.
In 2011, the total healthcare IT expenditure in GCC countries was around $444.2 million. The demand for healthcare in GCC is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years due to a rapidly growing population, rising income levels and increasing number of population covered under insurance. Further, the disease profile has also changed in recent years and the prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases is likely to pump large amounts in the healthcare sector. Governments in the region are pushing for market reforms to make the sector lucrative for private investment.
Over the years, the Ministry of Health in UAE has undertaken serious efforts to proactively manage the evolving healthcare needs of GCC population by establishing new hospitals and launching new initiatives, such as the national e-health policy and WAREED. WAREED is the largest health information system project in UAE, which will help to manage the rising number of patients and their healthcare data.
However, the plans to make GCC healthcare more technology intensive may be hit by lack of skilled manpower. In particular, Saudi Arabia is facing an acute shortage of qualified and well-trained healthcare professionals, who are capable of managing the IT environment in healthcare. Currently, expatriates comprise most of such skilled staff in Saudi Arabia. The report suggests that, “the healthcare IT market can make more technicians available by increasing the number of technical institutes in the GCC countries and training and motivating the doctors to increasingly use IT solutions for healthcare delivery”.
Although the use of traditional methods by professionals remains common, technology is making inroads in the GCC healthcare sector. Client server technology and broadband have become immensely popular in the region to manage hospital data and connectivity with the virtual world.