The coronavirus pandemic has caused enterprises in all business sectors to confront huge uncertainty about future revenue and spending, and healthcare is no exception. Hospitals, though, are at the epicentre of the pandemic and in many cases have accelerated investments in technology as a practical matter, to deal with the devastation that the coronavirus has brought to patients.
Even before the pandemic hit, hospital executives understood that technology would be crucial in the their efforts to better serve their patients. In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health launched a broad Digital Health Strategy initiative to support the kingdom’s Vision 2030 development plan to diversify its economy.
Partly as a result of these initiatives, hospitals in Saudi Arabia have been implementing a range of technology, including standard and specialized applications. These include ERP and CRM as well as EMR (electronic medical records) and PACS (picture archiving and communications systems).
Now, forward-thinking tech leaders in healthcare have their sights set on emerging technology.
AI can improve patient outcome
“There is still a lot of room to explore how artificial intelligence [and] internet of things can improve patient outcome, personalized care, help reduce costs and provide equitable care,” says Muhammad Siddiqui, CIO at the International Medical Center (IMC) in Jeddah. The IMC features a number of speciality centres providing a wide range of comprehensive treatment options; services are delivered by more than 150 US, Canadian and European certified physicians in more than 30 specialities.
“Digital technology may improve the patient experience by providing real-time access to medical knowledge,” Siddiqui says. “Imagine an AI-powered, bedside virtual care assistant for an impatient patient that can answer or direct queries to the most appropriate person at the hospital.”
This virtual assistant could answer the patient’s routine questions about diagnoses, expected recovery experiences and times, and daily medication schedules. Also, it could act as a data repository for the patient’s medical history, test results, consultation times, appointment schedules, and even stories from other patients with a similar diagnosis.
For the moment, IMC has undertaken multiple initiatives to ensure their caregivers and patients feel safe during the pandemic. The hospital, for example, introduced an online COVID-19 symptom checker – the My IMC App — for mobile phones and internet platforms for their patients. The app’s AI symptom tracker can inform users of the likelihood of having contracted the coronavirus.
“Our new mobile app turned to be a game-changer which is turning out to be very efficient to the patients, as they can manage their appointments, medicines online. They can also download/see the reports of their investigations,” Siddiqui says.
Hospital staff has also benefitted from tech updates.
Online portal informs staff
“The online portal for our staff updates them on recent COVID-19 advancements from the government,” Siddiqui says, adding “we invested in telemedicine and promoted the use of Microsoft Teams and Zoom to determine new and constantly changing protocols, present and forecasted demands.”
One danger for tech leaders in the current crisis, though, is that business executives will make across-the-board spending cuts, Siddiqui says. In fact, IDC has forecast that worldwide IT spending will decline 2.7 percent this year due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Technology investment can make business processes more efficient, Siddiqui notes, and at IMC, the primary agenda has been to change the mindset of the hospital’s leadership about technology, and then leverage their support in implementing the best solutions.
“We are keenly focusing on using automation,” Siddiqui says. “Very soon we will be automating our key workflows which involve duplicated and repeated tasks and multiple task forces. Also, using [software] robotics to automate hospital ancillary and back-office services can generate considerable cost and time efficiencies, and improve reliability.”
By simply touching a screen, nurses and other medical staff will be able to summon software robots for specific tasks. For instance, software robots can deliver medications, transport blood samples, collect diagnostic results, and schedule linen and food deliveries.
Questions about cloud tech remain
IMC, meanwhile, has a few applications on Microsoft’s public cloud based in the UAE, and will soon be moving Microsoft 365 ERP/CRM as well as a few other programs to the hyperscale data centre as well.
Exactly what can or should be put on the cloud is still subject for debate, though.
“I still think there are limited options in the region when you go and search cloud hosting. Hospitals are still contemplating about cloud solutions and what needs to be put there. As it relates to patients’ data, hospitals still unsure how this should be managed by third-party providers.” says Siddiqui.
“Data on cloud is comprehensive, real-time and it can improve patient outcomes, which means that sharing standardized data is likely to be part of future care delivery. This data can include genetic, social, and behavioural patient information, as well as financial, clinical, and administrative records. “