As connectivity continues to enable and improve people’s lives around the world, we are seeing some incredibly transformative impacts across all aspects of human life. Just take a minute to think about the way you currently communicate, access information, consume media, share experiences, order goods, and services, or make payments in your day-to-day life compared to just five years ago.
Despite these advances, the healthcare sector has been slow to embrace the connected world. In a way, this is understandable. Healthcare has a reputation for unique challenges and high barriers to entry and technologists in the healthcare space have to deal with an incredibly complex environment – any products and services they create need to gain acceptance from patients as well as doctors, care providers, insurers, regulators, and health authorities. They also have to navigate intertwined and complex regulatory frameworks and laws covering various portions of the value chain, such as privacy, data protection, medical devices, insurance, dispensing, marketing…. the list goes on.
A small number of companies are starting to break into telemedicine and telehealth. In the MENA region, we’ve recently seen startups such as Altibbi and Health at Hand leverage connectivity to provide on-demand health information and consultations via their respective mobile apps.
This opens the door for a natural progression in the connected healthcare continuum, to go beyond virtual consultations and apply recent advances in connectivity, data, analytics, automation, and Artificial Intelligence to:
- monitor healthy living and disease prevention;
- accelerate and improve diagnosis;
- increase treatment adherence, personalisation, and effectiveness;
- facilitate home care; and
- reduce administrative workflow, overheads, and errors.
Across the region, there are a number of factors converging to drive connected healthcare:
1- Chronic Illness
Cultural factors and modern lifestyles have led to a surge in multiple high-risk conditions and illnesses across the Middle East. The International Diabetes Foundation has identified the MENA region as having the highest prevalence of Diabetes in the world with almost 39 million diagnosed patients and a further 19 million estimated to be undiagnosed.
Statistics show that Cardiovascular Disease is responsible for one in five deaths in the UAE, and the Saudi Heart Association estimates that one in four adults in Saudi Arabia is likely to have a heart attack in the next 10 years.
Respiratory Disease is the third leading cause of death globally according to the WHO. Within the Middle East, the main culprits are Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. However, the availability of data and the effectiveness of preventative measures are limited because these diseases are difficult to diagnose, leading to higher incidental healthcare costs, and also deeper reaching social and economic implications.
2- Digital Transformation
Digital transformation is a key theme for governments in the region, with multiple initiatives enacted in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in addition to other places. For example, Dubai Health Authority created the Dubai Health Experience as a prestigious brand to position Dubai as a world leader for healthcare and, in Saudi Arabia, healthcare is a central pillar in both Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan 2020, which aims to increase private sector involvement in healthcare in the kingdom.
IoT investment in the MENA region topped USD$6.6 billion in 2016, driven by the manufacturing and freight monitoring sectors, in addition to Smart grid upgrades. This ready-to-use infrastructure has the capability to support data collection and IoT enabled devices, whether for consumer electronics or medical applications.
In the UAE, the healthcare sector is already making extensive use of cloud technology to track patient information and health records.
3- Consumer Acceptance
Wearables have become increasingly prevalent in the MENA region and more and more people are utilising wearable connected devices to monitor and evaluate personal health data. Shipments of connected wearables increased from 64.9% in Q1, 2016, to 67.2%, in Q1, 2017 according to data from IDC. This was mainly driven by fitness bands and smartwatches.
The convergence of these factors offers a unique opportunity for connected healthcare solutions to simultaneously reduce healthcare expenditure while improving a patient’s quality of life. The region is more than ready to be taken by storm. While there are certainly a number of obstacles to overcome, we have already identified a number of new challengers who have entered the ring.