RIYAD: The Saudi Ministry of Health is expected to spend $ 18.5 billion on healthcare each year over the next decade, with a focus on digitizing the sector and adopting modern, if not futuristic, processes. to increase the life expectancy of Saudi citizens.
As part of the Vision 2030 program, two major health goals have been set for 2025: For 88% of the population, including those in rural areas, to have access to inclusive health services, and for 100% of the population to be covered by a unified digital medical record system.
Work to meet the targets is already underway and a prime example is the King Saud Medical City of Riyadh (KSMC), the oldest medical city in the Kingdom, founded in 1956 and currently with 1,400 beds and around 8,000 employees. In 2018, KSMC started the process of digitizing its services and processes.
Social distancing restrictions and travel limitations last year have helped accelerate the changes.
âDuring the pandemic, you have seen an increase in service virtualization – it is not necessary (for patients) to come for a regular visit,â Mohammed Saud Alhassan, director of administration of e-health at KSMC.
âAs a patient, you have the choice between a virtual or physical clinic, depending on the doctor’s opinion. So, for most patients, especially in the outpatient clinic for a regular check-up, it was not necessary for the patient to come to the facility themselves so that they could be seen virtually and receive instructions from the doctor. “, he added.
During the pandemic, emergencies were still observed at the hospital. But in an effort to reduce face-to-face interactions, if the treatments could be done virtually, they were. With the systems now in place, KSMC plans to increase its use. Alhassan said doctors at the hospital are currently seeing around 400 patients virtually, but by the fourth quarter of this year, he hopes to see that increase to 2,500 per week.
In 2018, when they started the digitization plan, Alhassan said that they thought it would take about three to four years to change the workflow system, but they managed to achieve what they wanted by about a year.
âYes (COVID-19) has been a gift for us. This was a strong signal to seek out the next generation of systems to help us optimize our resources, âhe said.
The Kingdom’s investments in health are already bearing fruit in recent years, because according to the Vision 2030 website, the average life expectancy of Saudi citizens has increased from 72.6 years in 2000 to 75 years in 2018.
As part of the process, KSMC developed a digital app for patients and staff. One of the key steps in the process was the digitization of patient health data, which was previously done entirely using paper documents in files and manually updated.
Rodrigo Castelo, vice president Middle East and Africa at US software development firm OutSystems, which partnered with KSMC to handle the systems upgrade, said this shift from paper to screen takes a lot. investments in staff training.
âTo roll out such a shift to digital, you have to make sure the usability is not complicated, because you have an administrative staff who might not even have a college degree, and then you have the doctors. Thus, the same system should be used by a diverse resource pool, and should be simple and attractive. It’s not a simple change, âhe explained.
Castelo said the move towards digitization was already in place before the pandemic, but he has seen demand for his services in Saudi Arabia soar.
âThe Saudi market is growing a lot and very quickly. In the region, we have experienced 80-100% year-over-year growth. Saudi Arabia has grown faster at the moment, I would say even more than the United Arab Emirates, âhe added. KSMC is just the beginning of evolution in the healthcare industry. Saudi Arabia’s NEOM megaproject seeks to completely change the way health care is delivered, using smart toothbrushes and artificial intelligence to flag potential health issues, using a virtual health assistant – or “Digital twin” – to monitor biometrics every day.
The Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund has also invested $ 400 million in Magic Leap, an American augmented reality startup. The Florida-based tech company’s helmets are already in use in the medical industry, where doctors from different parts of the world can participate in procedures, reducing the geographic limits of what can be accomplished.
“Let’s say it’s brain surgery,” CEO Peggy Johnson told Arab News. âThey can be in the middle of it and they have a question and they really want to talk to someone who has maybe done a number of these surgeries. You can actually do this with the device. You can call an expert remotely and they can see what that surgeon is seeing and talk to them through the assistance.