Digital transformation goes beyond implementing technological resources — it also requires change in thinking and strategy. In this Q&A with CIO Middle East, Roula Gharios Zahar, deputy general director of Mount Lebanon Hospital University Medical Center since 1997, discusses technology challenges and successes for Lebanon’s healthcare sector, as well as hurdles presented for change management.
CIO MIddle East: How would you describe the healthcare technology landscape in Lebanon?
Zahar: Information technology is an essential tool in hospital management and contributes to a great extent in various processes such as administration, patient safety, and treatment safety. Hospitals around the world have been struggling with digital transformation as it involves interventions from the medical team which are usually reluctant to use technology in their daily medical practice. Lebanon’s hospitals are no exception in experiencing these difficulties. However, I have started digital retransformation projects and we are witnessing interesting success stories like in AUBMC (American University of Beirut Medical Center), HDF (Hôtel-Dieu de France), LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital, and others.
A number of other hospitals are in the process of implementing IT systems or developing their internal applications to meet today’s challenges. Challenges are many, but the most important is the absence of a unique patient identifier and the access to an accurate and unique patient database.
Another key challenge is the interoperability of systems. The standardisation of patient data format. The implementation of agreed-upon international coding systems is particularly complex and requires cooperation among various key players in the system.
Change management can prove challenging as well. Resistance to change from physicians and hospital staff may cause delays and incomplete implementation, thus compromising the project’s success.
CIO MIddle East: How have advancements in technology impacted Mount Lebanon Hospital? Have you noticed a significant amount of change in healthcare or quality of care related to advances in technology?
Zahar: The greatest impact is seen in the quality and safety of medical care and in the ease of access to medical information. Digitisation maximizes staff and treatment effectiveness by matching prescriptions with laboratory results and drug interaction information as well as diagnosis codes. For example, it has become a lot easier to access lab results and all kinds of exam results on any electronic device. Medical records are easier to read and information is more easily found. Data can be used for statistical purposes for research and quality improvement.
CIO MIddle East: Where is Mount Lebanon Hospital investing to be a more efficient, connected, and digital hospital?
Zahar: We are currently implementing a new system to benefit from the advantages of digital technology. On data entry and data collection, we have been able to digitise most of the medical data, and we are now able to provide a physicians with easy access to a complete medical history and medical results. Our radiology and medical imaging departments are fully digitised as well as our laboratory and typing units.
A business intelligence application has been implemented which allows for important statistical and epidemiology studies as well as process improvement and safety monitoring.
Patient applications are made available for easier and timely access to results, to data, or to report treatment side effects and contact the physician.
CIO MIddle East: Augmented reality and 3D printing are technologies that are penetrating the healthcare world. Do you use them? What trends do you think will change the healthcare system as we know it today?
Zahar: Augmented reality is used in some particular specialities in medicine and allows for more precision in surgeries, for example. AR and AI systems are also useful to improve the reading speed and accuracy of radiology and other medical images analysis. These are the new trends that will shape the future of medicine.
CIO MIddle East: As deputy general director at the hospital, what role does technology play in your job?
Zahar: Technology is a major tool that we use as directors in our daily tasks. It allows us to be more efficient and aware of the different challenges that we face. Data analysis is an essential component and tool that can help us to take the right decisions.
CIO MIddle East: How do you see Mount Lebanon Hospital compared to other hospitals in the region?
Zahar: I would say we are among the most advanced in terms of data management and imaging, but we still lack a complete digital transformation. The current [political and economic] crisis in Lebanon has unfortunately delayed this project. However, we are able to use technology to foster the improvement of our processes in several ways, and we succeeded in automating various procedures and provide a more effective service to our customers.
CIO MIddle East: What are the lessons the healthcare sector should have learned after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zahar: Consensus on the various IT standards used were made easier in COVID-19 times:
- software and programming standards
- disease coding standards
- drug and medical supplies naming and coding
- naming standard
- patient identification standards
- communication protocols standard
COVID-19 made change management and digitization part of everyday life and helped in overcoming change management difficulties. It proved again that change often comes in stressful and challenging situations. With remote medicine, people adopted new technologies faster. Also, data collection and data sharing were also improved and contributed in the fight against the disease.