Healthy returns

The potential of ICT in KSA's healthcare sector
Laurent Marini, MD of Orange Business Arabia and director of the board of Orange Business Arabia.
Laurent Marini, MD of Orange Business Arabia and director of the board of Orange Business Arabia.

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ICT and healthcare investments are converging to create connected-health opportunities in KSA. ICT investments are set to transform healthcare and improve life for Saudi Arabian citizens.

With the largest economy and population of all the GCC countries, Saudi Arabia is the region’s biggest ICT market and healthcare market but both are relatively undeveloped and attracting significantly increased public and private sector investment, creating an opportunity for connected-healthcare convergence. This can transform the way healthcare is accessed and delivered, medical data shared, and put the patient firmly at the centre of the system.

In healthcare, KSA is currently under-served (2.2 beds per 1,000 population versus a global average of 2.7). This will change with more hospitals and more beds, in an increasingly urbanised society. According to SAGIA, public healthcare spending is expected to reach $20 billion a year by 2016. From an ICT perspective, the Kingdom has embarked on a 20-year plan to create access to technology and telecommunications, supported by deregulation and public investment.

Whilst still young, the population of around 29m is growing and will age with a longer life expectancy, and affluence is bringing its own challenges with chronic lifestyle disease, all leading to greater future demand for healthcare services.

ICT can help to make a qualitative leap forward, bringing new efficiencies along with cost reduction and improved management across the country’s healthcare system – serving more patients, more effectively, and more cost effectively.

What healthcare ICT solutions are there? Digital Hospital, Telehealth and mobile health (M-health) are all areas where ICT is making a difference in healthcare and which are helping healthcare systems reduce costs, improve effectiveness of disease prevention, and in patient monitoring and treatment delivery – within the hospital environment, connecting the hospital to the patient home, and even connecting to patients on the move.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Health is already making significant progress in deploying ICT in healthcare, creating and delivering new smart e-services from medical licenses to e-directories, Citizen Voice, Hajj Health Services (Eijad system), vaccination reminders and complaints. An interactive mobile phone based service updates subscribers on medicine, health and disease prevention, through daily SMS.

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The concept of digital hospitals is becoming a reality across the world; the need to improve healthcare while controlling costs is pushing hospitals to deploy high-performance information and communication systems and associated digital solutions. It’s designed to create access to healthcare for all, guarantee continuity of care services between hospitals and improve medical practices and governance. The digital hospital helps accelerate the reorganisation of healthcare systems - networking patients and health professionals, remote control of medical systems and telemedicine services, reliably and securely, 24/7.

Telehealth uses tools for the production, transmission, management and sharing of digitised information to improve medical practices. This translates into remote monitoring of patients, electronic access to information, or shared diagnosis, patients can benefit from remote monitoring and better coordination of their care because healthcare professionals have easy access to information anywhere, any time. Telehealth has the capacity to transform the lives of patients, such as people with diabetes using telesurveillance.

M-health may be the most exciting area, though, with the use of regular mobile devices to provide healthcare solutions, for prevention, medical information or monitoring chronic illnesses, for example. In mature healthcare systems, m-health improves communication between healthcare professionals and with patients. In more developed systems, m-health can promote access to healthcare and prevention services.

In emerging markets, m-health is often the most effective way of accessing healthcare and health information. Globally, five years from now, the mobile health market will be a mass market with a reach of more than 3.4 billion smartphones and tablets with access to mobile apps, according to research2guidance’s new report, “Mobile Health Market Report 2013-2017: The Commercialization of mHealth Applications.”

In the short term, in developed countries, the convergence of fixed and mobile networks and the roll-out of ‘very-high-speed mobile’ services should make it possible to expand the uses of mobile technologies in the healthcare sector. Orange is already providing the technology to meet the needs of healthcare professionals, managers and IT administrators, patients and public and private health providers, making the digital hospital concept a reality.

Laurent Marini, MD of Orange Business Arabia and director of the board of Orange Business Arabia.

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