Middle East Healthcare IT Demand on the Rise, But…

Middle East oil producers have accumulated handsome budget surpluses thanks to sustained oil prices during the last decade and governments are doing the right thing by spending these on social development. Healthcare and education are the key sectors that are benefiting from this boon and information technology is claiming a fair share of government spending.

Qatar has already been spending a good part of its oil wealth in education and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is investing heavily into healthcare services including large IT deployments which include setting up three data centres and one of the largest national PACS deployments in the world. All these initiatives are tapping on cutting edge cloud solutions which offer seamless access to patient data across the care continuum as well as securely and cost effectively storing patient data.

Intel and our technology partners are increasingly shifting focus to healthcare IT projects in the region. We recently held a workshop in Riyadh with Dell on mobile healthcare to learn from leading healthcare providers how they are planning to improve care coordination with technology. Hamad Medical Corporation in Qatar has just delivered a Clinical Information System (CIS) Conference in Doha to more than 1,400 clinicians which offered CME, CNE and CPD credits to participants. How is that for a change that awards our caregivers for learning effective use of technology?

While the region is on a fast track preparing their health workforce for improved patient care, we have been researching how the Middle East is faring with respect to mobility and care coordination vis-à-vis the developed world. We have just completed a regional survey with HIMSS Analytics and the results are fairly surprising.

In some aspects, the region is way ahead and in some respects catching up. Among mobile devices provided to clinicians, tablets specifically for healthcare use is expected to rise to 41 percent this year from about 24 percent, while all types of cellular phones and pagers are on decline. This does not mean clinicians won’t be using them. They will simply become Bring Your Own Devices, a big challenge for device manageability. Only 3 percent of the health workforce is expected to get a smartphone or feature phone compared to as high as 45 percent procured by the healthcare institutions before.

I will present the survey details at a HIMSS Middle East Regional Event in Riyadh next week, and have the honor of addressing distinguished participants from regional governments, healthcare industry and the IT sector. I would like to share one worry that keeps me awake at night. A recent report from Bank of America is forecasting that the oil price will halve within two years due to a number of factors including yet again greater use of technology. Should this occur, would the Middle East governments have the same enthusiasm to continue with the social investments in healthcare and education or start to cut back just like the developed world is doing today?

How do we keep the momentum going to finally reap the benefits of current investments in healthcare IT? What do you think?

Rick Cnossen is the Worldwide Director, Healthcare IT, at Intel Corp.