Harnessing technology-driven innovation to help meet Saudi Arabia’s growing healthcare needs

By Wayne Miller, Director, EMEA Healthcare Practice, Zebra Technologies, KSA

How Real-Time Visibility and Data Analysis are Driving Innovation in Healthcare

Saudi Arabia, as with many countries around the world, is facing the challenges of a growing and ageing population, rising life expectancy with rising healthcare needs – and rising costs.

There is also the added complication of a range of chronic non-communicable lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

These challenges could place additional strain on the existing healthcare services and budgets and this is opening opportunities for greater private sector investment and encouraging increasing investment in technology that can not only enhance the patient experience and outcomes, but also create process and cost efficiencies for healthcare service providers.

Increasing healthcare budgets to build more hospitals, train and employ more doctors and nurses, is clearly part of the solution; but technology also has a role to play in optimising the benefits of the available resources to deliver more value (higher ROI) from the overall investment and improving patient outcomes.

As Alpen Capital notes in its GCC Healthcare Industry Report (16 February 2016), “the GCC region is witnessing a wave of information technology applications in delivering effective healthcare. The adoption of such technologies has the potential to improve the quality of care and reduce the cost substantially for both patients as well as providers.”

Technology represents an opportunity to improve patient care, staff productivity, and operational efficiency if it is deployed appropriately. Many hospitals are already effectively using mobile devices and Wi-Fi services, but there is so much more they could be doing to increase their visibility and improve patient care. Enabling teams to work smarter and to provide care time rather than administration time for frontline medical staff will provide benefits throughout the hospital environment.

Patient safety is the number one priority for healthcare organisations and total visibility into hospital operations is critical for staff efficiency. These visibility solutions for healthcare include state-of-the-art, asset-tracking solutions such as card and barcode printers, mobile computing, and data capture to complement radio-frequency identification (RFID), real-time locating systems and cloud-based IoT (Internet of Things) platforms.

Middle East healthcare providers including those in Saudi Arabia can deploy these visibility and mobility solutions to empower their staff and gain intelligence and visibility into their assets and performance and consequently deliver better patient care.

The adoption of new technology and the digital transformation of healthcare – from connected hospitals to eHealth and mHealth – is helping to ensure that healthcare professionals (doctors and nurses) are spending more time with patients and less on administration.

A range of new technologies is also helping healthcare professionals ensure accurate patient identification, which enhances patient safety, and to track and trace specimens taken from patients at the bedside, for example.

From Zebra’s research with IDG in 2016, we know that hospitals in Europe are managing patient and specimen identification, handling data collection and retrieval to better understand opportunities for future improvement. Some hospitals are improving in mobile working for staff but there are still areas where efficiency is being restrained by staff underutilising the technology investments already in place.

The most popular technology – and so the most used by hospital staff - is the everyday technology such as Wi-Fi and mobile devices. When it comes to using mobile devices, the survey found that 90% of hospitals use mobile devices to collect clinical patient data. Over half are using mobile devices to access patient data and biology prescriptions, and the same number use them for asset and facilities management. The highest number of users is nursing staff (80%), followed by around half of all doctors and a third of all consultants. 97% of UK hospitals already use mobile devices to collect clinical data.

Arguably IoT – along with Cloud, Big Data and Analytics - has the greatest potential to radically transform healthcare. 

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death globally, leading to 17.3 million fatalities annually. That number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030. New technologies can change those outcomes for patients and IoT technology is already in action.

The IoT has enabled everything from improved efficiency for global shipping networks to devices that receive environmental feedback from home appliances and thereby minimise their energy use. Thousands of new use cases are in development right now such as smart toothbrushes and intelligent can openers. The good news is many organisations already have the building blocks in place to digitise their operations.

The economic impact can already be felt. The market for radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices, the underlying technology for sensors, is exploding. According to IDTechEx, a consulting firm in Cambridge, UK, 8.9 billion RFID devices were sold in 2015, representing $10.1 billion in revenue. IDTechEx forecasts revenue will hit $13.2 billion in 2020. This includes tags, readers and software/services for RFID cards, labels, fobs and all other form factors, for both passive and active RFID.

Three megatrends are driving this move toward a more-connected world:

  • Data collection and analysis: Being able to gather data in real time and control or act on physical processes and information is being used successfully and is closer to becoming a large-scale reality.
  • Cloud Technology: Decentralised data storage and access is now readily available at an affordable price point for both consumers and enterprises, ensuring that an ever-increasing amount of information is available on demand.
  • Mobility: Adoption of mobile technology and the number of mobile-connected users have grown so rapidly that companies are constantly finding new opportunities to leverage the connected world for innovation.

At the heart of the idea to connect the physical and digital worlds to drive innovation, efficiencies and global economic growth is the Intelligent Enterprise – including hospitals.

For instance, in the healthcare industry, the complex network of individual players – doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurance companies – makes consolidating, sharing, and analysing medical data extremely challenging. But projects across the globe are attempting to use sensors and data analysis to improve information gathering and processing and ensure better care for patients.

For example, in 2016, Zebra partnered with Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in Leiden, Netherlands, on the first commercial use of the Time Tracking Solution for Acute Myocardial Infarction Patients. Internet-enabled patient wristbands sent heart rate data to doctors, who track the crucial time between when a patient with a heart blockage enters the hospital to when the blockage is removed by inflating a balloon during surgery. By analyzing that data, healthcare providers hope to better understand how quickly patients receive treatment, inform staff planning procedures and provide crucial information more accurately to physicians in real-time.

Saudi Arabia may face significant challenges but the country also has an extraordinary opportunity to apply technology solutions to optimum effect, in greenfield and existing hospital developments.