Powering up healthcare
Abu Dhabi is pushing the boundaries of excellence in public health through digital transformation
In the coming years, digitalisation will transform all aspects of healthcare and touch our lives by improving the quality of treatment we receive, how we monitor our health and live our lives. From shaping how we interact with healthcare professionals to informing how treatment decisions are made, data is at the heart of the astounding progress within the field.
Despite its potential, digital adoption within healthcare has been slower than in other industries. Regulatory and reimbursement complexities, as well as a reluctance to lose the 'human touch', has slowed the technological disruption of fundamental infrastructure. The balance between the pace of change and patient comfort is delicate, so we haven't yet maximised the futuristic solutions on offer. Yet by embracing what technology can offer, we can save money, resources and ultimately lives.
Thanks to the vision of our leadership many years ago, we are fortunate that digital technology has already revolutionised UAE healthcare and today, we benefit from some of the world's most advanced and effective healthcare services.
The ground-breaking Genome Program, for instance, launched by the Department of Health (DOH) - Abu Dhabi and Group 42, brings together DNA sequencing and Artificial Intelligence to improve the wellbeing of UAE residents. For the first time, researchers will have access to detailed and comprehensive genetic information on Emiratis. This will allow us to better understand genetic predisposition to certain conditions, mutations that can affect treatment responses and more. This data will improve diagnosis and treatment options, advance research, and in the future allow the delivery of health programmes that are tailored specifically to an individual's unique needs.
When our medical data turns digital, we really see the benefits of digitalisation. Malaffi, Abu Dhabi's Health Information Exchange (HIE), another strategic initiative of the DOH, is driving the digital transformation and sharing of patient data. This improves accessibility within and between healthcare providers, enabling us to reimagine how we deliver healthcare in a much more comprehensive and cohesive way across the Emirate. As healthcare providers start to experience the benefits - more informed decision-making or more efficient consultations - they are driven to capture more data, which is standardised, over time improving the quality and meaning of this information.
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the value of data - and the benefits of having robust systems in place to capture and disseminate information - became more obvious. In countries with this sort of infrastructure, governments could effectively track and manage outbreaks and where it was lacking, the responses were far less effective.
By the time Covid-19 emerged, Malaffi was already well established to increase healthcare data sharing across Abu Dhabi, and it proved critical to the globally recognised pandemic response of the country. Enabling the real-time exchange of health information between healthcare providers - essentially allowing different types of electronic health records to 'speak the same language' - Malaffi quickly connected all facilities that were providing frontline care to Covid-19 patients, creating a centralised database of test results in the Emirate. Visibility on positive cases ensured swift action from frontline teams to protect the patients, medical staff, and others. Malaffi has also been a crucial part of the DOH's vaccination programme. By centralising all vaccine data in the Emirate, we are contributing to the nation's success and proud position of being the first in the world in terms of vaccination rates. With the availability of real-time data, our government was better prepared to allocate resources efficiently and implement measures such as mass testing, isolation, and vaccination, keeping us in a fortunate and safe position.
Yet the full social and economic value of digital transformation in healthcare is untapped. Future and more advanced systems for syndromic and pandemic surveillance and response will increase readiness to handle any future public health threat. We can also advance population health management. As a digital link between patient data from different healthcare facilities, platforms like Malaffi provide access to more and more data. This helps us look beyond existing conditions and start making data-based predictions about future health risks. This will transform everything from capacity planning to direct communications with patients. We can enhance coordination of care and ultimately move toward a more value-based and preventative system in which doctors and healthcare professionals are incentivised to keep people well.
The future of health tech really is exciting.
Atif Al Braiki is the CEO at Abu Dhabi Health Data Services (Malaffi)
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