Opportunities and Challenges for GCC eHealth

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It can be said that electronic media is a force that has led to the building of partnerships among different organisations, both local and national, to ensure continued development of society at large.

Dubai Healthcare City
Dubai Healthcare City, the region’s top healthcare FreeZone.

Investment in GCC eHealth can help promote better resident health. However, regional governments need to make an effort to develop the infrastructure and national broadband to develop eHealth programmes across the GCC.

According to a recent study, 90 percent of  the diseases in the UAE are chronic lifestyle diseases and injuries.  The study conducted by Deloitte has noted that a shortage of medical expertise has driven governments to send some citizens abroad for medical care at a higher cost. Such challenges are forcing some GCC governments to invest heavily in order to reform their public healthcare systems.

Titled ‘Middle East public sector – National necessities: eHealth’, the study discusses the opportunities and challenges tied to a national eHealth strategy. A key part of this strategy is the introduction of EHR, as well as equipping hospitals and clinics with hospital information systems and enterprise resource planning. This has been recognized as a critical measure in the attempt to provide better health to residents, by inculcating the power of information technology and electronic telecommunications to generate better outcomes for patients.

The study discusses in detail, different case studies from around the world to recommend possible models for emulation within the GCC. Discussing the case study of a GCC nation, the study describes it allocating a large part of its healthcare budget to enhance healthcare services and in particular, the delivery of eHealth.

“The secret to success in implementing eHealth systems is how well they are integrated and how well the implementation is incrementally phased. With such a complex large scale initiative, the governments and clients need to think carefully about how to break down the implementation into programs, how these programs are inter-dependent, and how to sequence or phase the implementation of these programs.” — Abdelhamid Suboh, Consulting Partner and Public Sector Leader at Deloitte Middle East

The study proposes the use of electronic health records (EHR) to facilitate the implementation of e-Health. The EHR replaces the traditional pen and paper or standalone systems approaches and would considerably reduce errors. With EHR, every patient in the healthcare system will have one electronic record that can be transmitted seamlessly and shared by every healthcare provider in the system.

The primary benefit of an eHealth system is improved patient health. However, there are also direct and indirect benefits for the health system in general, such as a decrease in hospital readmissions, reduced waiting times due to better coordination of information, and improved health system planning.

“While the costs of implementing an eHealth system can be significant, there should be long-term cost savings, due to the efficiencies, greater workforce productivity and better management of resources that such a system should generate.”Abdelhamid Suboh

Challenges and key recommendations for implementing eHealth in the region include:

• Investment in computing infrastructure and national broadband services
• Making the business case: planning and consultation
• Information protection, privacy and security
• Execution and requisite skills
• Implementation of better plans allowing the breakdown into smaller, manageable components

The first phase is the implementation of eHealth. The next phase will be the challenge to adopt and make use of the considerable investments.

At this point, it is vital to take into consideration the needs of the different end users. As the Deloitte Middle East whitepaper cautions, the ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work in this scenario.

“This is why it is important to have a thorough planning and consultation stage, where all stakeholders are consulted before implementation. Regional governments must continue to invest in the sector and mechanisms need to be put in place to encourage care providers who will be connected to an eHealth system to invest in the implementation and maintenance of computing infrastructure.” — Abdelhamid Suboh

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