Countries worldwide sound off on digital medicine efforts

This week at the Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Summit, clinicians discussed the international efforts of implementing technology in healthcare.
By Laura Lovett
10:16 am
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Digitizing medicine has become a priority all over the world. Driven by needs, budget and priorities, each country and region takes its own approach to integrating these tools.  

“Our national agenda is very much digitizing everything. Even if you want to renew your driver’s license you cannot do that at a desk,” Dana Kassissieh, senior director for governance and patient experience at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, said during a panel at the Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Summit, put on in collaboration with HIMSS. “It all has to be online. So that is really helping us because it is a big shift for UAE nationals, but as long as the other industries are moving that way we are kind of jumping on the back of that.”

But this isn’t the only Gulf country with an emphasis on digitizing healthcare. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also setting its sights in that direction. 

“We have it as a national strategy to include virtual care into our systems,” Lamia Alfaleh, assistant director of rehabilitation program and services at Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Humanitarian City in Saudi Arabia, said during the event. “In our organization we are piloting a health net system.”

One of the reasons for this push is it could make things easier for patients and providers alike. 

“The biggest thing for us is the biometric check in. If you live in UAE you are going to have an Emirates ID and your biometrics are kind of saved on that,” Kassissieh said. “Some of the hospitals in Abu Dhabi have started using this for biometric check in, which decreases your registration time by a phenomenal amount.”

Australia also has its eyes set on creating a national program to connect records. 

“At a national level there is a new program called My Health Record, which is essentially the federal government's attempt to try and enable a central warehouse of a person’s health data so that when a patient goes to them they will be able to access a patient history,” Matthew Kelly, CEO of Gosford Private Hospital, said. “Patients can select what information is available to them and what isn’t. You can also opt out as well.”

These digital strategies aren't limited to national-level implementations. Globally, hospitals are configuring digital tools to meet their unique challenges. Alfaleh said that moving toward digital tools makes sense for her organization, where many of the patients live outside of urban area. 

“Since most of our population comes from outside of the city we are the largest rehabilitation center in the region. Access to care is a challenge,” Alfaleh said. “So, reaching out to our patients at home is essential. We do a call after one month to check on them. But I think we want to give the patient the ability to reach out first without traveling all the way, just to consult with some simple question.

This problem isn’t unique. In fact, in many countries around the world people are living a substantial distance from their care providers, a major hurdle to receiving care.

“We have 25 million people throughout a country the size of America, so distance is always a massive issue,” Kelly said. “Telemedicine is actually quite well used around the country.”

An aging population is another issue that is facing many countries around the world. In fact, the National Institutes of Health, projects that by 2050 almost 17% of the world’s population will be over the age of 65. Singapore is one of those countries being impacted, as its population growth continues to slow and its aging population is increasing. 

While telemedicine is one avenue practioners are using to reach more people in their home, artificial intelligence tools are also becoming popular, and sometimes creatively implemented to solve big challenges. 

“We also use a lot of robotic pets for people with dementia because we can’t have real pets in the hospital,” Si Ching Lim, senior consultant of geriatric medicine at Changi General Hospital, said. “The patients love them.”

But regardless of whether technology is helping practioners to support a lonely patient or if the tools are facilitating care to those in rural communities, the drive for digital tools continues to move forward, and many are seeing that as transformative for the industry worldwide. 

“I think this is a vision to support that virtual care across the whole country, and I think that it is one of the very ambitious things to transform our care,” Alfaleh said. 

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