Digital healthcare in Saudi could save over $15 billion by 2030

29 June 2022 5 min. read

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has already taken steps to digitise its healthcare system, aiming for improvements in patient experience, quality of care, and efficiency. According to new analysis by McKinsey & Company, further advances in digital could generate billions of dollars in additional GDP boosts by the end of the decade.

Digital technology has long been touted as offering healthcare systems significant benefits. By enhancing patient care and streamlining administrative processes, digitised healthcare could offer better-coordinated care, real-time monitoring of chronic diseases, more accurate diagnoses, more effective treatments, and convenience for both patient and physician.

According to previous research by McKinsey & Company, the benefits from digital technology and services could generate over $250 billion in global GDP by 2030.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the strategy consulting firm now asserts that this same trend could unlock major GDP contributions over the same period.

Share of total savings from digital adoption, 2030

Starting with its Vision 2030 healthcare transformation in 2016 – part of the broader Vision 2030 campaign to diversify the oil-state’s economy – the country has already made efforts to boost healthcare efficiency and quality, digitally. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, though, Saudi Arabia has expanded its digital offerings to include consumer-centric solutions, specifically virtual care.

Authors of the report, Mahdi AlBasri, Panco Georgiev, and Ali Ustun, stated, “Digital healthcare solutions have the potential for considerable benefits for Saudi Arabia. Stakeholders in the public and private sectors can evaluate which solutions warrant the most investment and the highest-priority rollouts to improve the quality of care for patients.”

Sources of savings

In terms of which solutions should be prioritised, according to the researchers, there are five main areas where savings will be most pronounced. These span simple steps, such as going paperless, to more advanced tasks, such as process automation.

Paperless data
Deceptively simple as it sounds, moving to paperless data represents 12% of the potential benefit forecast by McKinsey before 2030. This may equal between SAR 1.9 billion and SAR 2.7 billion. Unified digital medical records promote greater efficiency by allowing healthcare professionals to focus on high value-add tasks rather than administrative ones.

At the same time, communication between departments, and with other hospitals, could also be enhanced with paperless software. This could increase productivity, replacing traditional in-person multidisciplinary committees and facilitating rapid doctor-to-doctor communication about patient care between departments and hospitals.

Virtual interactions
Digital interactions between patients and professionals have long been discussed as a way to streamline waiting lists, and provide important diagnoses, quickly. The idea of making some appointments digital continued to prove controversial for healthcare providers around the world, though. That was until the pandemic hit – and lockdown measures meant that where appropriate, doctors would have to see patients remotely rather than in person.

Pursuing virtual interactions beyond the pandemic could be a game-changer for Saudi healthcare, constituting 41% of potential benefits, and producing SAR 6 billion and SAR 9 billion in savings by 2030. Giving an example of how this could materialise, McKinsey noted that between 2011 and 2015, diabetic emergency department visits in Saudi Arabia increased by 21%; and that in 2013, the country’s cost of managing diabetes was close to $1 billion.

Self-care and self-service
Patient self-care and self-services account for 17% of the potential benefit McKinsey anticipates for digitalised healthcare in Saudi Arabia. This could total between SAR 2.6 billion and SAR 6.6 billion in savings by 2030.

Digital adoption could mean chronic-disease management adapts to allow for patients to take care of their own needs – helping facilitate prescription adherence and pill management, as well as promoting healthy diets and physical activity, and digital diagnostics for home-collected blood panels and screenings.

However, the adoption rate of these solutions is low, McKinsey warned, so most of the potential from scaling them remains hypothetical. Self-service solutions in Saudi Arabia currently enable patients to book clinic visits, and schedule diagnostic tests. But many opportunities to increase adoption rates remain.

Decision intelligence systems
Many health providers in Saudi Arabia have implemented performance dashboards, but there are opportunities beyond this technology. If these are taken, McKinsey contends they could make up 16% of digital healthcare benefits, and SAR 2.3 billion to SAR 3.8 billion in savings.

One example given of how this might work is genomic profiling. McKinsey stressed this should be performed with robust patient privacy and safeguards, but if this was the case, it could help generate a full pharmacogenomic profile for a patient from a swab that they performed at home.

This profile could be used to identify the most compatible drug with a patient, and the most appropriate dose, improving health outcomes and limiting cases of adverse reactions – the treatment of which costs money in its own right.

Workflow automation
Future-of-work studies from McKinsey show that as much as 40% of work in the Saudi health sector could be automated by 2030 – presenting huge opportunities for care improvement, and efficiency savings. As with any other industrial automation, by deploying robotic process automation, health systems could free up professionals to concentrate on higher-order tasks, and the empathetic side of care – improving outcomes, and patient experience.

Qualitative research by McKinsey has shown that electronic referral tools have already been widely adopted in Saudi Arabia over the past three years, owing in large part to the Ehalati (My Referral) system, launched in 2019. Additional value could be generated from other solutions, such as robotic process automation in the transportation of medication and blood samples, and scaling of electronic intensive care units.

In this case, workflow automation accounts for 13% of digital benefits, with savings between SAR 2.1 billion and SAR 4.7 billion.