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by Eric Engman
Published on October 13, 2017

Today many of us have greater visibility into our financial health than our own personal health, as well as tools and services to help us mange our finances and keep us “financially healthy." In this article I explore how many of those advancements have come from technology, and how the gap between how we understand, engage and manage in our financial and personal health is narrowing with the help of government, public & private hospitals and care providers and healthcare information technology companies here in the Middle East.

Every day I receive notifications and alerts, typically an SMS, whenever a transaction occurs on my debit or credit card. I receive emails letting me know that I have bills due in the near future, and I receive a reminder if those bills weren’t paid 2-3 days before the due date, helping me avoid late charges or services and subscriptions being shut off. On occasion I also receive emails stating that over the past year I have paid significant annual fees for two of my credit cards when there are other cards offering similar rewards and benefits available for no annual fee. At the end of each month I receive an email summarizing where and how I spent my money, how that compares to previous months, as well as how my monthly spend relates to any budgets I have set.

All of this information and communication is proactive and pushed to me at the right time to make it relevant and actionable. These systems and tools help me save money, save time, and reduce the stress of trying to manage a complex world of personal and family finances that may otherwise be ignored or require me to visit various websites, review paper or electronic statements, keep and reconcile paper receipts, spending significant time manually tracking, comparing, consolidating and trying to understand disparate sources of information.

The picture I describe above will look familiar to many readers. The tools I use, online banking, mobile apps and sites like Mint.com which aggregate & analyze my data, are readily available as online services. Because of this I have better engagement, understanding and control of my financial health than I did 10 or 15 years ago before these tools and services existed. As someone who works in the healthcare industry, but is also a patient and regular visitor to clinics and sometimes hospitals to receive care I often wonder not if, but when, I will be able to manage my personal health in a similar way I manage my financial health.

Any of us that have visited clinics or hospitals have experienced the anxiety of wondering what the cost may be, what our insurance will or won’t cover, wondering if our test results will be good or bad, if we are getting healthier or not, and what we can do in our day to day lives to avoid becoming ill. In the future, I believe that we will have greater visibility, ownership, incentives and capability to better manage our personal health. Similar to how many of us manage our financial health today. What might this look like in the future?

As I wake up in the morning, the devices I own will begin to collect and send health related data to my personal health record, this may be a sleep tracker on my phone, a scale that I step onto each morning, a heart rate or blood pressure monitor that my doctor has prescribed and sent home with me. I will have alerts & messages pushed to me encouraging me to eat certain foods, or take certain medications, based on guidance from my medical team & health coach. Throughout the day a pedometer embedded in my phone will track my steps and remind me to stand up, take a short break and walk around the office to keep my physical activity at desired levels. Later in the day as I move around town location based data may alert me to specials or offers for groceries that fit my prescribed diet, or even a sale on new gym clothes. When I book my summer holiday I will be reminded and scheduled to the traveler’s clinic to get any vaccinations and medications for the country I am visiting. For the young, old and those require care givers this data will be analyzed and push alerts when there are changes that need attention. I may receive an email saying that a family member I care for has significantly decreased their physical activity and is gaining weight (tracked through their connected pedometer and scales in their house). All of this information and communication will be proactive and pushed to us at the right time to make it relevant and actionable in managing our health & wellness.

Similar to the evolution of how we manage our financial health, from paper to siloed online access and then to open and connected, a similar evolution is already happening in healthcare today. In the GCC today nearly all hospitals have implemented electronic medical records, many more are introducing online patient portals allowing their patients to communicate with their care team, view test results and download education related to a disease or condition, as well as schedule follow up visits. This is increasing engagement, awareness & a sense of ownership over our health and making it easier to do so. While these are positive steps, it is only the beginning of the journey, similar to the introduction on online banking it is allowing me as a patient to view data, often across multiple sites, or patient portals, if I visit multiple clinics and hospitals over time but in a reactive way. While the US, Europe and other parts of the world are looking to connect hospitals, clinics and other places of care together with Health Information Exchanges (HIE’s) the Middle East is in a unique position to leapfrog their peers and move quickly to proactive care by healthcare organizations and the members of the community they serve. Long term vision, and investment, by the Leadership in various GCC countries and their respective Ministries of Health and regulatory bodies mean most GCC countries use one enterprise EMR to deliver over 80-90% of the care in their respective countries. HIE’s would add value by connecting the private hospitals & clinics that sit outside of the Ministry/Country level EMR, but governments in the region are now looking to invest in the framework and platform that will allow data aggregation, analytics, research and population health capabilities for their citizens and create the picture I have laid out above.

In United Arab Emirates, the Cabinet has endorsed and supported plans for a country wide platform, the National Unified Medical Record (NUMR) that will connect all healthcare organizations in the country as well as their respective medical records to improve care delivery to patients as well as improve the health of the citizens and their communities. In Qatar the National Vision 2030 and the National Health Strategy has established goals and structure to improve the health of their citizens, not only focused on treating patients but focused on prevention and curing as well as crating a culture of wellness. These countries, their Leadership, the respective Ministries and regulatory bodies along with other members of the public and private sector are quickly advancing the way healthcare is delivered in the GCC and how we as citizens will be able to move from a reactive to proactive managers of our health & wellness. This day is not far away and I can’t wait for it to be as easy as checking my bank balance.

** This was originally published in Arabian Computer News. **

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