Harnessing digital healthcare technologies and data tools has served not only to innovate incredible COVID-19 solutions, but expedite the adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution solutions in the UAE.
The number of medical professionals using digital technologies in healthcare provision doubled during the pandemic, signifying a sea-change that is here to stay.
Our survey shows the remarkable developments in the UAE, with 86 per cent of healthcare professionals stating that digital technologies and data solutions increased the productivity of care access and staff productivity in front-line healthcare services.
Evidence shows that the use of phone and video consultations has become widespread, with 53 per cent indicating that they plan to further invest in digital technology alternatives over the next three years. The bigger picture also highlights that social distancing, infection control, and lockdown measures have initiated a swift shift from in-person services to those delivered remotely.
Meanwhile, remote working and collaboration via digital platforms have become commonplace. To sustain the momentum of the digital shift that has demonstrably improved patient care, wellbeing of residents and healthcare outcomes, the report makes five recommendations to policymakers, regulatory bodies, and health and human services (HHS) providers.
The issue of funding and reimbursement was listed as an important enabler of digital adoption. Many organizations had access to emergency funding to introduce new digital or analytical solutions throughout the pandemic.
While there is concern amongst professionals that they may need to locate additional funding to continue using these tools, some solutions have already proven their financial business case through improved staff productivity and lower cost delivery models.
A key finding is the challenge of harmonization and interoperability. If things like Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and video-consultation platforms differ between clinics, hospitals and countries, it means that digital solutions are fragmented. This problem is particularly exacerbated when digital solutions are implemented without rigorous testing.
There are examples of where this has gone wrong - in the 2000s, the UK government wasted around Dh49 billion on a unified National Health Service IT system that would have provided one single ERM platform for every citizen wherever they were in the country. A failure to properly test the technology led to the entire project being abandoned.
For digital platforms to realize their full potential and do what they are intended to do, it is critical to make a concerted effort to develop regional or national-level strategies and infrastructures to support digital solutions and data standardization.
Although governments reduced regulations for privacy and data protection out of necessity during the pandemic, standards on effective regulation and security must be enforced post-pandemic. Unless regulators, providers, and vendors can ensure newly implemented technologies can meet the necessary standards following the pandemic, some solutions may no longer be fit for purpose.
Provider adoption rates
Service providers must be able to see and feel the benefits of continuing to use digital technologies and analytical solutions after COVID-19. With tele-health, for instance, many providers have expressed a desire to continue remote consultations, which is great news for patient wellbeing.
However, this must be balanced with ensuring equity of access due to the ‘data poverty gap’ that exists in many parts of the world where data is expensive and digital infrastructure lags behind.
To create buy-in among providers, solutions should also be user-friendly and incorporate seamlessly into existing workflows, rather than creating additional administrative burden. The Smart Dubai’s network of advanced digital services and programmes played a critical role in facilitating government operations, allowing entities to provide uninterrupted e-services during the pandemic in the emirate and helping employees perform their day-to-day tasks through various e-services when remote work was made mandatory.
Prior to the pandemic, many service users expressed concern around digital security, privacy, and the performance of digital tools. As adoption accelerates, governments must also ensure that the benefits reach across the population, particularly to vulnerable groups with limited digital access – such as low-income groups and the elderly.
Unless sufficient investments in infrastructure and training are made, countries risk increasing inequities in access to services.
It is crucial regulators, payers, service providers, vendors, and service users collaborate to maximize the potential benefits of these solutions – as their actions will deliver improved services to all.
- Mohammad Sear is with EY's MENA Digital Government and Public Sector Consulting.