While the coronavirus pandemic exposed the weaknesses of healthcare systems around the world, digital solutions were quickly onboarded as an immediate measure to curb infection rates, bridge capacity shortages and improve the delivery of healthcare services.
But as containing infection rates with the virus evolving remains an urgent priority, strengthening healthcare systems is essential.
The UN expects the world to be home to 10 billion people in 2050. Two in five of these will be aged 60 and over. Further, uncertainty around Covid-19 and other potential outbreaks is likely to continue at least into the medium term. Combined with an acceleration of three to four years in the adoption of digital technologies and the digitisation of customer and supplier interactions, we will see digital healthcare delivery continue to expand.
Since Facebook revealed its intent to pivot to the metaverse, companies around the world have stepped up their activities in the space. The Metaverse is the digital world’s next big thing which means for healthcare the possibilities are endless.
Overall, the OECD expects global healthcare spending to reach 13 per cent of GDP among its 38 member nations by mid-century. In the short term, the digital health sector will account for a significant percentage of that growth. Reportlinker data shows that the global market for digital health is projected to more than treble to $456.9 billion from $152.5 billion in 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 18.8 per cent over the analysis period.Visitors to Arab Health will get a first-hand look at how these digital healthcare solutions might play out over the next decade.
Into the metaverse
Dr Shafi Ahmed, surgeon, innovator and Medical Futurist will demonstrate how healthcare could look in the metaverse. The term refers to a proposed version of the internet that combines virtual reality, augmented reality and video so that animated avatars of our physical selves can interact with other people in three-dimensional virtual environments.
“Since Facebook revealed its intent to pivot to the Metaverse, companies around the world have stepped up their activities in the space. The Metaverse is the digital world’s next big thing which means for healthcare the possibilities are endless,” Prof Ahmed says. A cancer surgeon at The Royal London and St Bartholomew’s Hospitals, he was called the most-watched surgeon in history after a virtual reality livestream of one of his operations attracted a record number of viewers around the world.
He will demonstrate how digital technology can be used to bridge gaps in healthcare in a session streamed to Arab Health from an operating theatre run by the UK’s industry association for health technology. The session will conclude with a medical lecture on acute appendicitis, a condition that affects approximately 17 million people worldwide, according to the Global Health Data Exchange repository.
The event will support the launch of the Metaversity, a programme of virtual learning experiences and certifications for continued professional development.
“In the future, maybe we will see benefits such as remote collaboration with patients and dissemination of information among clinicians at different centres. Virtual reality and augmented reality are already making a difference in patients’ lives and the metaverse allows us to take this to the next level,” adds Prof Ahmed.
Reality gets an upgrade
While the metaverse is still some years away, digital technologies are changing medical education and healthcare delivery here in the UAE.
The Thumbay Group, which operates hospitals, pharmacies and a medical college in the UAE, uses augmented and virtual realities to give students a realistic situated learning experience. Its flexibility enhances training and can lead to better outcomes in patient care.
Augmented and virtual reality are majorly supporting our healthcare education space, which will enable students to receive better education. For instance, students studying the human anatomy using the VR glasses will be able to identify the human organs and their functions without having to constantly refer to their text books.
Augmented reality (AR), which complements the real world with digital twins and visual overlays, is an excellent means for learning and remote collaboration. Virtual reality (VR), on the other hand, takes users into virtual universes where they can communicate remotely with the created world and other users. Mixed reality (MR) integrates the capabilities of the former to merge real objects with the VR-created digital world, explains Razeel Mohammad, Chief Enterprise Architect, Thumbay Technologies.
“Augmented and virtual reality are majorly supporting our healthcare education space, which will enable students to receive better education. For instance, students studying the human anatomy using the VR glasses will be able to identify the human organs and their functions without having to constantly refer to their text books,” he explains.
Outside education, digital technology is changing both patient care and clinical operations. Three of the most recent connected healthcare technologies are in use at Medcare’s clinics and hospitals.
Superhuman intelligence on tap
As in other sectors, several new technologies are driving innovation in medicine and healthcare, in part because of the pandemic. Artificial Intelligence (AI), already moving from research to clinical settings, uses machine learning models to search through medical data for insights that can improve patient health outcomes and experiences.
However, its biggest advantage, perhaps is its ability to make data-driven predictions that mirror human intelligence but are beyond human capabilities – speeding up R&D on diagnostic tests and drugs.
As clinicians become increasingly connected and digitally enabled, and healthcare moves from the traditional clinic and hospital to virtual anytime anywhere scenarios, the internet of things (IoT) and AI-incorporated diagnostic tools can enable and upskill clinicians (and patients) to enhance, guide, analyse and record aspects of clinical exams.
Last year, for instance, researchers from New York University Abu Dhabi alongside colleagues from NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Center for Data Science developed an AI program that uses information from chest X-rays to predict a Covid-19 patient’s chances of survival over the next 96 hours. The classification test, believed to be the largest application of AI in radiology, accurately predicted four out of five infected patients who required intensive care and mechanical ventilation and/or died within four days of admission.
“Emergency room physicians and radiologists need effective tools like our program to quickly identify a Covid-19 patient whose condition is most likely to deteriorate quickly so that healthcare providers can monitor them more closely and intervene earlier,” says study co-lead investigator NYUAD assistant professor in computer engineering, Farah Shamout.
Elsewhere, innovation in 3D printing will put artificial organs, bones, teeth, hearing aids and surgical and medical devices within the reach of UAE residents within three years. As part of the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy, doctors will be able to create ceramic teeth in less than 20 minutes and produce artificial limbs for less than Dh400 by 2025.
3D rendering, meanwhile, will allow clinical professionals to understand how user-created 3D models could look in real life – whether this is a medical device that supports the body’s functions or a pair of glasses on your face.
Cloud computing, meanwhile, could prove to be a game-changer in terms of streamlining workflows while saving costs for healthcare organisations, says Thumbay’s Mohammad. The technology, a way of delivering services over the internet, can be used to manage remote data centres, maintain servers and improve scalability and reliability.
“Along with the cloud, we are planning to implement AI and ML capabilities in our software, which will help us in providing collaborative patient care, making it easier for doctors/clinicians to access patient information. This new engine will analyse the treatment patterns already available and has been developed over years of treating patients in all our hospitals and clinics.” When presecribing a medicine, a doctor can immediately consult statistics of previous use by other patients, based on age, efficacy, gender, stage of illness, and more, he says.
Democratising diagnostics and care
“As clinicians become increasingly connected and digitally enabled, and healthcare moves from the traditional clinic and hospital to virtual anytime anywhere scenarios, the internet of things (IoT) and AI-incorporated diagnostic tools can enable and upskill clinicians (and patients) to enhance, guide, analyse and record aspects of clinical exams. From vital signs to mobile lab on a chip — these can enable lower cost and more accessible and democratised diagnostics and care,” Maher Elhassan, Vice President and General Manager, MENAT at medical technology company BD tells GN Focus.
The company brings a suite of medical and interventional innovations for different stages of a patient’s care journey to Arab Health and its sister exhibition Medlab Middle East.
“With accelerated digital transformation in the post-pandemic era, organisations have had to quickly adapt with new strategies and innovations to keep up with demand in the healthcare industry,” he concludes. “The present situation has highlighted that healthcare providers need to equip themselves with the right solutions and practices to enhance the quality of care across the region.”
Diagnosis by video call
As far as the telehealth delivery trend is concerned, patients can now explore remote consultations with physicians, receiving their diagnoses and treatment advice via video conference.
The trend for personalised healthcare is visible in Medcare’s Chronic Care Management programme, which comes with an app, tracking devices and access to the brand’s patient portal. Besides continuous contact with healthcare providers, patients with long-lasting conditions can interact with and send relevant data to their doctors in order to manage chronic illnesses.
Meanwhile, digital data records support the way the network functions behind the scenes. The TrakCare unified healthcare information system helps Medcare maintain secure and automated electronic medical records.
Clinical and administrative teams have single-window access to integrated patient information, from departments and laboratories to admissions and discharge, while expediting billing, eliminating duplication and maximising resource use.
“Technology is changing the way we think about healthcare. From wearables to AI, healthcare technology trends are rapidly redefining how healthcare professionals and patients interact with one another,” a Medcare spokesperson says. “This is an industry that will never stop evolving, and it has become more evident by the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic which exponentially accelerated the need for change.”
Across the Middle East and North Africa, the value of the connected care market is estimated to have increased from $2 billion in 2017 to about $9 billion across the Mena region in 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 35 per cent, according to data from researcher, Markets and Markets.
Now, advanced medical technology is playing a greater role in improving diagnostics and treatment outcomes even as pathogens evolve and the burden of disease rises, promising, as the consultant Deloitte puts it, an exponential transformation of the pace and scale of healthcare.