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Emerging from a pandemic, global big data promises growth in Middle East’s healthcare sector

Big data has moved businesses affiliated with healthcare systems to find innovative ways to stay proactive, experts say

Emerging from a pandemic, global big data promises growth in Middle East’s healthcare sector
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us one thing is that a robust healthcare system takes precedence over all things that matter. And, as we emerge from a standstill state of economic activity, the healthcare industry across the globe has wisened to find innovative ways to stay proactive.

One of the ways in which healthcare organizations have started to equip themselves is by using the power of big data. While talks around big data have been making the rounds for some time, the pandemic has motivated businesses affiliated with healthcare systems to find innovative ways to create new treatment methods, develop wearable devices, and improve clinical research.

It has changed the way healthcare works across the globe and has made its way into the Middle East’s healthcare sector to make the entire system transparent, accessible, and affordable. “The healthcare system will have to change significantly for stakeholders to take advantage of big data,” says Khaldoon Bushnaq, co-founder of Alma Health, a digital health platform based out of UAE. 

THIS SHIFT IS NEEDED 

Big data has a promising future for the healthcare sector, including pharmaceutical firms and suppliers of medical equipment. Today, everything from disease prevention and tracking to diagnosis and treatment is driven by enormous amounts of data.

“Big data will help us prevent and improve what we do around infectious diseases by having available information from healthcare provider networks integrated with the governments. Big data can essentially improve the way epidemiology is done than how it is done today. For example, they can show real-time what’s going on,” says Brandon Rowberry, CEO of Digital Health, Aster DM Healthcare. 

For instance, a doctor can monitor a patient’s blood flow and oxygen saturation and forecast the risk of a stroke or aneurysm arising by leveraging software that transforms enormous data into lucid, usable stats. This powerful data could help a doctor to make more educated decisions and even share it with other medical experts to help treat patients with comparable conditions elsewhere.

Rowberry adds, “As we understand more and more data from more and more people, we can actually put together cohorts across countries, patient segments, and disease states, so we can understand them better. This way we can be more proactive and preventative rather than reactive about it, right?”

In the past, healthcare has been built in a way that when someone gets critically ill or sick, the doctor does a great job at reacting (treating) based on what he or she already knows, according to Rowberry, who believes that “with the help of big data, we can actually create an information bank with all of the earlier collected stats, and put it together for the future to be more proactive.” 

“The old levers for capturing value—largely cost-reduction moves, such as unit price discounts based on contracting and negotiating leverage, or elimination of redundant treatments—do not take full advantage of the insights that big data provides and thus need to be supplemented or replaced with other measures related to the new value pathways,” Bushnaq adds. 

MOVING TO A DIGITAL SPACE

For decades, medical records, including personal demographics to family histories, have been in a paper format, limiting their usefulness. With the emergence of the digital era, healthcare systems around the globe have moved on to creating electronic health records. 

With the help of this data, doctors receive alerts when a patient needs to be contacted (for instance, to monitor the health of their patients). Clinical researchers are able to spot patterns when it comes to correlations involving disease, lifestyle, and environment, a task that would have been impossible to detect without big data in the picture. 

“One of the main areas where healthcare providers should be focused is to use data to develop a personalized approach for patients to prevent or early detect potential health outliers. This will enable the shift from being health providers to becoming health partners and start looking into new ways to early detect any kind of disease,” says Massimo Cannizzo CEO and co-founder of Gellify Middle East, a platform that helps traditional companies to innovate their processes, products and business models.

EVER-GROWING DEMAND FOR WEARABLE TECH

Healthcare professionals are constantly looking for innovative ways to provide patients with quicker, affordable, and more effective treatments, and wearable technology plays a key part in this. 

“We have recently engaged with one of the leading international healthcare providers to analyze its data strategy and advise how data can help in the future. One of the core areas is to start utilizing IOT wearable devices that monitor many core health signals such as oxygen saturation levels, temperature, and heart rate. In combination with this data and that from clinics and hospitals, infectious diseases can be treated with the help of early signs,” says Martin Mazur, data and analytics lead at Gellify. 

Using big data analytics tools, information collected from countless patients can offer invaluable insights aiding healthcare providers to improve their line of treatment, thus saving lives and money at the same time.

OVERCOMING ROADBLOCKS 

All that said, one of the main issues, according to Gellify, is that organizations are not focusing on analytics governance where data governance and quality are the main enablers of any successful big data initiative.

Gartner estimated that 85% of big data initiatives fail mainly because significant investments were not delivering the expected value. “Based on our experience, organizations look into technology instead of focusing on analytics governance which encompasses data governance, use case, and architectural roadmap. Technology can follow after we are clear about the desired outcome,” Mazur adds. 

Another hiccup healthcare providers come across is ensuring consistent and comprehensive data capture, and reinforcing the culture of information sharing. Adoption and meaningful use of electronic medical records are instrumental in patient care. “It is necessary to develop a strategy to capture data from smart and embedded medical devices and alternative patient engagement channels and modes, such as patient-affinity websites, hospital kiosks, and mobile devices,” Bushnaq says. 

A more common mistake seen in the healthcare sector is dumping all data into a big data solution and thinking about the outcome afterward. “Big data initiatives need to start small and deliver business outcomes first before scaling up. Current cloud data lakes are ideal for such an approach, where investment can be distributed over time and coupled with scaling,” Mazur points out. 

Lastly, effective chronic care management must be a high priority for governments and its stakeholders to provide citizens with improved clinical outcomes at lower healthcare costs, for instance, Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision meets this very requirement. 

“We will also need to see changes in the mindsets of healthcare stakeholders,” Bushnaq says, stating how both patients and physicians must be willing and able to use insights from the data. He adds, “This is a personal revolution as much as an analytical one. The new value pathways frame the opportunity and possible improvement in the system, but actual behavior change will require individuals to depart from traditional practices.”

Even though ecosystems are being built and newer technologies are surfacing to interlink the gaps, there’s still a fair bit of work to be done, but it is all coming together, says Rowberry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shweta Nair is the Associate Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is drawn to a plethora of topics ranging from human-interest stories to technology and has worked for Times of Oman and The Arabian Stories. In her downtime, she loves tending to her home garden, learning new skills & binge-watching true crime shows. More

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