Technology and digitally-led health systems became not only important during COVID-19 but an immediate necessity. In the Middle East, regional IT experts were faced with deploying and rolling out technological practices and systems in unprecedented timeframes.
WHY IT MATTERS
While IT health chiefs were faced with the challenges the crisis presented, the pandemic also paved the way for boundless opportunities in modernising and improving healthcare systems globally.
The expert panel at the ‘Middle East CIO Roundtable‘ opening Keynote during Day Three of HIMSS21 Middle East consisted of Eng. Adnan Alrayes, Executive Director of Virtus Informatics (Kuwait); Dr Khalid Alyafei, Division Chief Medical Informatics Officer at Sidra Medicine (Qatar); and Eng. Fahad Al-Hussein, Group Chief Information Technology Officer – MENA at Saudi German Hospitals Group (KSA).
The session was moderated by Waleed AlBahli, General Director of the National Health Information Center (NHIC) (KSA).
ON THE RECORD
From a Saudi perspective, NHIC’s AlBahli spoke about how, as countries emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, many nations are striving to build more resilience and efficient digital mature healthcare systems. “COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change,” he said, pointing out that many of the changes fell on the shoulders of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in healthcare settings.
Alyafei offered a Qatari perspective, saying he believed the COVID-19 pandemic enabled the introduction of technology to better help treat and care for patients.
“There was a high demand from the government to find smart solutions,” he said. One example was the government’s smart tracing app which informed users if they had been near a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. The app also tracked the status of its users, allowing only users with a ‘green’ status to enter public areas.
“This played a major role in terms of prevention; to put those people who have a suspected disease to stay at home.”
Qatar has also empowered patients – through digital platforms – to decide how they would like to receive their healthcare, while new technologies have enabled data sharing across the sector.
Other evolving technologies included introducing an advanced COVID-19 saliva test that gave results within two to three hours, and new systems to support remote monitoring and telemedicine. These technologies, explained Alyafei, will support health systems during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
In Kuwait, Alrayes stated the GCC country, like many others across the world, had to find immediate solutions for the continuation of healthcare services to patients as the country went into COVID-19 lockdown.
“We did not want to discontinue our service to the community. We had to find solutions to deliver care beyond the fence of the hospital.”
These include technologies that deliver remote services and healthcare, and finding ways to upskill the community to adopt digital systems after a previous reliance on in-person care.
Alrayes added that while government health leaders “underestimated” the ease of adoption of digital health services during the initial weeks and months following the pandemic, the community went on to embrace the move to digital mature systems “beyond our expectations”.
And communication was a key tool in the adoption of these technologies, with health leaders engaging communities on what services they wanted to receive remotely, as well as involving them in the design process.
“We involved the community and that is how we raised satisfaction.”
Alrayes addressed the changing role of the CIO following the pandemic, saying that: “We were able to accomplish what we could not accomplish in many years. The pandemic brought disaster to us, but it also brought a lot of good things to humanity. This [digital transformation] is one example.”
Al-Hussein also discussed the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on IT leaders in healthcare, saying it led those in their field to have more autonomy but also more responsibility.
He further raised the importance of public and private sector partnerships in rolling out digital mature systems.
“Each one compliments the other. The private sector for the flexibility of adoption and the fast implementation. And the government by being a regulator.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has started the ball rolling on e-health that is now unstoppable.
“Mobile apps and e-health are changing patients’ experiences… Telehealth as well, and, in the future, artificial intelligence.”
Regulation, policies procedures, and standards, frequent awareness sessions, audits, adopting the right technology systems, such as encryption, and two-step verification is key to protecting data privacy and patient confidentiality, Al-Hussein concluded.
Register now to listen to the session ‘on demand’ at the HIMSS21 Middle East.