Digital revolution is reshaping healthcare in the Middle East

11 May 2023 6 min. read

As the healthcare sector faces new challenges, emerging technologies are helping leaders to improve performance and manage costs, write Kearney partners Mohamed Berrada and Younes Rahmoune.

By 2050, the world is likely to be home to 10 billion people. Two in five of these people will be aged 60 or older, including almost half a billion over 80.

As populations age and people’s lifestyles continue to change, the prevalence of illnesses increases, intensifying the operational and financial pressure on health systems. It’s a scenario that presents challenges for the healthcare sector worldwide. By 2050, public expenditure on health and long-term care is projected to reach almost 13 per cent of GDP for OECD countries.

Digital revolution is reshaping healthcare in the Middle East

In other sectors with similarly challenging environments, digital transformation has been vital to improving quality and access to services, while constraining the cost curve. This is even more applicable in healthcare.

In order to improve access to healthcare services, achieve a higher quality of care delivery, and optimise the costs of healthcare provision, governments and healthcare players, both globally and in the Middle East, need to adopt digital solutions.

Improving access to healthcare services

A significant challenge for healthcare systems in the Middle East is access to care services, particularly access to specialised and advanced care treatments.

This is due to multiple factors related to limited workforce availability and the wide geographic distribution. This is an inherent problem in the region which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, this is also a challenge that has turned into a blessing, as the pandemic served as a catalyst for the accelerated development of more innovative delivery modes such as telehealth and e-pharmacies.

Innovative e-services and remote care technologies (such as telemedicine and remote monitoring tools) have benefitted both patients and medical professionals. Patients have been empowered to access physicians virtually, wherever they are.

Physicians have been using technologies to enhance their knowledge and skills and, more importantly, provide better assistance to patients. E-services have been gaining traction in the Middle East, with providers seeing up to 10 per cent of their outpatient consultations move to virtual platforms.

This also translates into tremendous market potential. The value of the global telehealth market is estimated to reach $460 billion by 2030.

The telemedicine market is also expected to grow exponentially in the Middle East and Africa, in the coming years. The development of virtual platforms to enhance access does not stop at telehealth. The future might well be in the metaverse, where brick-and-mortar hospitals have less relevance in terms of prevention, diagnostics, and potentially treatment, with care delivered in the comfort of one’s home.

The health ecosystem is already assessing the practicality of many metaverse applications. For example, virtual hospitals are being established, virtual training for surgeons is developing and the use of augmented reality in surgical procedures is becoming an established practice.

Delivering higher quality of care

A key benefit of many new technologies is their potential to help minimise errors and improve quality. This is especially important in a sector such as healthcare, where there is no room for mistakes.

These technologies are improving the lives of patients and physicians by performing tasks typically done by humans in less time and with minimal human errors. For example, in prevention, artificial intelligence (AI) techniques are helping to diagnose various diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic heart disease, and tuberculosis.

In terms of treatments, AI-driven robots are assisting with the manipulation and positioning of surgical instruments during operations, enabling surgeons to focus on the more complex aspects of surgical procedures.

Some of these technologies provide information that have previously been inaccessible to physicians. For instance, big data and cloud computing are providing access to higher-quality, more accurate information about patients. This enables a genuine shi­t from the reactive “caring for the sick” to “maintaining healthy people,” better early detection, more individualised care, proactive healthcare.

All these technologies will change healthcare as we know it, bringing better prevention, new treatments, and greater accuracy in care provision. The Middle East is already ahead of the curve in progressively adopting such emerging technologies in healthcare.

For example, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have well-developed health systems that arguably have leapfrogged some Western countries in the adoption of digital health technologies. In addition to this, the countries have already begun introducing regulations around the use of AI in medical devices.

Optimising healthcare costs

Healthcare inflation is intensifying the pressure on healthcare systems around the world, and this is expected to be further aggravated by growing, ageing populations and the increasing burden of diseases.

Innovation can largely support cost control through measures such as automation, early detection, and remote monitoring. Early detection can positively impact both overall health outcomes and the cost of health

services provision. For example, early cancer detection can reduce the cost of cancer treatment by ten times and increase survivability by four times.

Cost reduction should also be considered from a macro healthcare perspective when adopting and implementing digital technologies. While virtual care may be expensive as a setup, it can reduce overall costs of treatment and risk of readmission.

Likewise, remote monitoring technology has helped to improve the control of chronic diseases and post-treatment recovery while assisting with cost reduction. For instance, while diabetes is widespread in our region and its management can be expensive, the integration of remote monitoring technologies into patients’ lives can substantially reduce the costs for the healthcare system as a whole.

Remote monitoring technologies have driven a sharp decline in hospital readmissions and emer gency room visits, lowering the cost of care by as much as 16 per cent over fi ve years. These cost savings can subsequently be reinvested in other important areas of care delivery.

While the overall cost of health delivery is expected to continue increasing in the years to come, innovative technologies are expected to constrain them, while supporting the treatment of more patients and establishing an enabled, value-based care system.

Embracing emerging technologies

As the healthcare sector faces new challenges, emerging technologies are helping leaders to improve performance, increase collaboration across systems, and manage costs.

These technologies can streamline processes, automate tasks, and improve workflow at scale. The vision of healthcare in the future is of a sector completely transformed, with engaged patients embracing a range of digital tools while being responsible and accountable for their own health.

Healthcare will no longer be limited to hospitals but will rather be delivered by health services integrated everywhere.

The industry will effectively move to a value-based healthcare system, with an ecosystem that can help people to keep healthy and avoid whatever is avoidable, while finding even more cures for diseases.

Mohamed Berrada is partner and head of the Healthcare Practice at Kearney in the Middle East, where Younes Rahmoune is a partner.