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by Michael Schelper
Published on October 13, 2016

The UAE has always amazed the world with innovations, one-of-a-kind projects and unique establishments. This is no different in the healthcare environment. The healthcare industry in the Middle East experienced rapid change over the last few decades and the momentum in which innovations have been established, increased profoundly in recent years. As Dubai has been transformed from a pearl-diving village to an international hub that is connecting the East and the West, so has the healthcare environment in the UAE changed from a rather rudimentary system to one of the best in the world.

A clear goal has been set with the Vision 2021 to take healthcare to the next level by establishing preventive medicine in the UAE. This will ensure a longer, happier, and healthier life for all of its citizens. The establishment of mandatory health insurance, that started in 2006 in Abu Dhabi, 2015 in Dubai, and is planned to be rolled out in the other Emirates, was an essential cornerstone for improving the accessibility and availability of quality care. The overall progress has particularly been impacted by the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015, which was launched in 2007 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This plan focused on the availability of quality healthcare. Following in the footsteps of these previous strategies, the Vision 2021 and the Dubai Strategic Plan (DSP) 2021 have, at its core, the well-being of the people in the UAE. This in combination with recent trends in the Emirates, such as the establishment of the public-private-partnerships law, the privatization of specific government services, or the profound realignment of the federal government to be prepared for driving the future of the UAE, is providing a unique opportunity for healthcare to leapfrog many others in this space and shape the industry.

The Opportunity can be Categorised into Three Areas

  1. People
  2. Interoperability
  3. Population Health Management

People: The UAE is continuing to improve its position in the worldwide economy, which already has resulted in an increased inflow of regional and global top talent. Contributing factors for this trend are the provision and promotion of an enhanced educational environment, public transportation infrastructures, improved housing services for all residents, alongside a rich multicultural setting, a breadth of cultural and entertainment options like parks, beaches, and a large variety of world-class recreational facilities to promote a healthy lifestyle. UAE’s business hubs Abu Dhabi and Dubai are already amongst the best cities to live in, in the world. This environment conjointly with a visionary government that is serving its citizens, is forward-looking and proactively listening to the population is the foundation for harnessing the talent, creativity and innovation-drive of its multicultural workforce to drive the country, its society and economy forward. One has already seen a slowing down of the transient nature of the expatriate labour who are now committing to a longer residence and even retirement as well as feeling increasingly patriotic towards the UAE. This means long-term healthcare will become much more important in the future.

Interoperability: Despite fundamentally increased automation in the various healthcare facilities, health information is in most instances still residing in silos, be it in private or public sector entities. With a visionary country and public sector leadership, a federal and local government that views partnering with the private sector as a tremendous value add to achieve the set goals and to improve the overall wellbeing of the UAE citizens, this consortium working together will allow the leapfrogging of the healthcare industry and is the second cornerstone that needs to get established. The National Unified Medical Record (NUMR) project is bringing the public and private sector stakeholders together to realise the ambitious goals of the Vision 2021 in the country. Led by the Ministry of Health of the UAE, other players such as public healthcare providers like the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), Dubai Health Authority (DHA), and private healthcare are working together with telecommunication providers and healthcare information vendors in order to establish a shared medical record platform across the UAE. This will achieve the centralisation of essential data and analytics for all UAE consumers of health information.

Population Health Management: Once information can flow freely, connecting everything that matters, engaging the consumers and communities is the next consequent step and third cornerstone towards a proactive population health management with standardised clinical programmes and outcomes across the country. This is where the lines are getting blurred and a symbiosis of ones’ private lifestyle, sporting activities, wearables, smart technology in a home, clinic, hospital, city and even country setting is formed. With data from all of these diverse sources being instantly available, evidence based recommendations can be provided, predictive and preventive management of the population such as lifestyle related (diabetes, obesity, etc.), cardiovascular, cancer, high risk or chronic disease patients can be done, medical research will get enriched, an epidemiologic basis for preventative strategies can be created, and an overall continuous advancement approach can get established in order to increase the quality of healthcare and the health of the people, improve the safety and satisfaction of care provision, as well as to improve the financial performance of the overall system. Today it takes an average of 15 years for published research to get into the hands of the doctors who use it, in tomorrow’s connected world, this could be 15 minutes.

This is where everything comes together. Citizens striving for education and personal development, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle are being provided with an environment where health information can flow seamlessly, each and everyone can and has an urge to engage in the wellbeing of oneself and the society. These citizens are being supported by a government that is driving innovation and efficiencies by strategically partnering with the private sector in not only a smart clinic, smart hospital, smart home, smart grid, smart city or smart health setting but in a smart country environment. Visionary alignment of all stakeholders is key to achieve this. Given where we are now in the country, this seems to become yet another time the UAE will amaze the world with innovative ideas, turning a dream into reality.

** This was originally published in the Arab Health magazine. **