New healthcare frontiers

New healthcare frontiers

With technology and the right commitments, we have the power to dismantle healthcare frontiers and build new systems from the ground up. The possibilities are boundless

Integrating fragmented healthcare systems may seem like a lofty dream in a world that feels more muddled than ever. But it is already happening. In the region of the Gulf Cooperation Council, I am fortunate enough to witness these rapid changes first hand.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, the national Health Sector Transformation Program aims to restructure the health sector into a comprehensive, effective and integrated health system. This ambition stems from the very top, articulated as an overarching mission: Saudi Vision 2030.

Vision 2030 is a transformative economic and social reform blueprint that is among the most ambitious agendas in the world. Nothing will be left untouched, from sport to farming, in a bid to move the Saudi economy away from its current oil dependency.

Under Vision 2030, innovation, financial sustainability and disease prevention are prioritised, while access to health care is being improved. Digital solutions and e-Health services such as telemedicine are being expanded to improve the quality of care. The Health Sector Transformation Program has already delivered successes, such as the Kingdom’s effective handling
of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The onset of the pandemic disrupted non-communicable disease services, owing to control measures and lockdowns. Such diseases – cardiovascular, in particular – are major public health issues in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Health promptly embarked on medical technologies to ensure continuity, including smartphone apps and social networks, which were used to address public queries and provide virtual health services and support.

One notable initiative, the SEHA Virtual Hospital, was introduced so that patients could consult specialised physicians without having to travel to different parts of the Kingdom. The largest of its kind, the virtual hospital launched with more than 150 hospitals connecting with more than 30 specialised health services. By using Lunit INSIGHT CXR technology, it was able to use artificial intelligence to analyse chest X-rays, allowing pilgrims to be treated during this year’s Hajj season.

The cusp of a revolution

We have all been connected globally for years now through social media, so why should health care be any different? We are on the cusp of a revolution that will give rise to new borderless models.

Just as Estonia has helped transform the way we work remotely with its digital nomad-friendly e-Residency program and fintechs are disrupting the way we transfer money, there is a very real need to dismantle frontiers to treat patients.

Imagine a patient in rural Rwanda being treated by doctors in Kigali or specialists in Geneva through a telemedicine service. All of a sudden, complex physical geographies and weak infrastructure become less important.

And the innovations keep coming. The hype over the metaverse has died down since the fanfare of last year, but the underlying technologies including virtual and augmented reality continue to grow in importance. Indeed, venture capitalists invested $707 million into metaverse projects in the first half of 2023, accounting for 44% of web3 investments. Web3 is a new kind of internet service built using decentralised blockchains, which are the shared ledger systems used by cryptocurrencies.

Today, there is an immense focus on AI. The evolution and use of generative AI through tools such as ChatGPT are surging, to the extent that there is industry pressure to regulate the technology before developing it further.

But technology is only part of the picture. There needs to be the right backing and regulatory environment, especially in the context of digital health. All patients of all backgrounds should have access to health treatments, whether they are in the Sahara or in Singapore.

This is more than compassion; it is the right thing to do. It is also inevitable at some point, given the rapid technological changes. As technology advances, we must ensure that it takes into account everyone’s needs, free of any bias or preference.

All views acted on

In the spirit of inclusivity, all stakeholder views must be harnessed and acted on: patients, providers, physicians, payers and, of course, governments. We must all be on the same page, and preferably before the next pandemic comes, through ongoing dialogue – whether these are multilateral talks at the very highest level or industry associations.

Moreover, it is essential to recognise that the future of work, characterised by the ability to work from anywhere for everyone, will not only empower experts to contribute to their own countries but also collaborate globally.

In this intertwined future of work and health care, both domains have the potential to add new dimensions to the ongoing effort of removing healthcare boundaries and creating a healthier, more connected world. The part of humanising technology and the importance of global collaboration in this endeavour cannot be overstated.

As an advocate for change and inclusivity, I hope we can accelerate the conversation today so that we may arrive at new legitimate models or frameworks that we can all agree on, which the world’s population so sorely needs.

The possibilities for the future of health care are boundless. It is up to us to shape a healthier and more connected world for all.