Innovation in Healthcare: the extraordinary lies in the everyday

28 February 2021

by Atif Al Braiki

Innovation in healthcare has been going on for millennia, changing the way patients receive care and as a result, helping us all live longer, healthier lives. But the extraordinary is really witnessed in the everyday.

Think about the humble X-ray. Accidentally discovered in 1895 when physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen noticed a fluorescent effect coming from barium cathodes he was using to study the effect of electric currents passing through gas, his idea was initially met with hostility by healthcare professionals. Fast forward 126 years and it is hard to imagine the correct diagnosis and treatment of most common fractures being possible without an X-ray. Yes, technology has moved on, and amazing advancements in imaging have followed, with the use of sophisticated Computed-Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imagining allowing medics to obtain incredibly detailed, real-time, 3D images of any part of the body. But the X-ray is still used, day-in-day-out, to help millions of people around the world.

Over the last decade, tools like robot-assisted surgery and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have revolutionised medical science and as we enter 2021, we are at a turning point globally in the way tech is transforming healthcare. New technologies can truly offer a significant impact on the way we live our lives; from the way we deploy medicine, to improving accuracy in the early detection of diseases. This is extremely exciting and holds such promise for future generations. But the real promise this innovation holds is when we have the opportunity to change the everyday.

One of the most noticeable and recent examples of technology making tangible improvements to our health is the speed with which the world has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been just a year since the virus gripped the world, and we already have multiple vaccines in development, several of which are approved by regulators and being distributed to millions of people globally. This is an astounding scientific achievement and thanks to technology within the field of immunology, the biotech and pharma industries were able to sequence the virus genome, develop candidate vaccines and begin trials within months of the outbreak. How was this possible? The simple truth is that scientists have spent years designing new technologies to prepare for such events. The possibilities for modern genetics have been researched and explored, and the use of genome sequencing to predict virus components was made possible. Clinical trial infrastructure allowed the safety and efficacy of these vaccines to be tested globally at an unprecedented pace, and as a result, UAE residents are privileged to be among those who already have access to effective and safe vaccinations designed to protect us from COVID-19.

Telemedicine is another example of technology enabling a transformation of healthcare delivery over the last year. The provision of medical care at a distance via telecommunications technology was not widely available before the pandemic, and when it was available, patients typically preferred traditional face-to-face consultations.  When the pandemic struck, and in-person consultations were suddenly not possible, virtual visits were able to fill the gap. Patients were hesitant, and there was a need to build reassurance. The pace of change in the way we interacted with healthcare professionals was rapid and new, so building patient confidence was essential.

But telemedicine did more than offer a short-term solution; it made care more readily available and offered convenience for those at-risk or living with chronic conditions. Patients feel relaxed in their own environment and are more likely to be open to sharing information about their condition[1], and of course, are more likely to attend important appointments. With the technology already in place, the pandemic was a push that accelerated the adoption of telemedicine, but it is a shift that is likely to be permanent [2]

Another significant benefit that innovation offered the health of our people was the enhanced response efforts data sharing afforded during the height of the pandemic. The response of our Emirate’s decision makers was immediate and decisive. The availability of Malaffi, a platform that facilitated vital data sharing, enabled the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi together with Malaffi, to connect all facilities that provided front-line care to COVID-19 patients, and create a centralized database of every single COVID-19 test result in the Emirate – a staggering 13 million tests to-date. How did we benefit? Well, our healthcare providers could make more accurate, efficient, and safer decisions about our care, ensuring the risk to every patient could be assessed immediately, as well as protect their staff and other patients. Availability of such real-time data allowed the DoH to strengthen its pandemic response; we were better prepared, and we were able to implement better pandemic measures. With tech supporting more efficient allocation of resources, better capacity planning and utilization, we truly felt safe.

With over 3 million residents within the UAE already vaccinated [3], we are among the nations with the highest vaccination rate in the world. Within Abu Dhabi, Malaffi has enabled all vaccine data in the Emirate to be centralised, supporting the Department of Health’s highly efficient digital vaccination programme, and contributing to our nation’s ambition to have half of the population vaccinated by March. Looking forward, the information available in Malaffi and its population risk management tools will contribute significantly to any advanced systems tailored for syndromic and pandemic surveillance and response. Such systems will be of the utmost value for early alerts and increased readiness to handle any potential future outbreak for the local and global population’s safety.

The future and potential of innovation in healthcare is truly astonishing. The healthcare sector can sometimes be slower to adopt to new tech than other industries, with more time being taken to ensure a balance between the pace of change and patient comfort. But in the UAE, thanks to the vision of our leadership many years ago, as early adopters of the health-tech fusion, and with the support of outstanding healthcare facilities, we are in a position to benefit from the shift, with improvements being seen in the care we receive every day.

References: 

[1] NCBI: Patient Perceptions of Telehealth Primary Care Video Visits. Available at:  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5422083/ (last accessed February 2021)

[2] Medical Economics: Four new statistics that prove that telemedicine isn’t just a pandemic fad. Available at:  https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/four-new-statistics-that-prove-that-telemedicine-isn-t-just-a-pandemic-fad (last accessed February 2021)

[3] Khaleej Times: UAE Covid vaccination doses cross three million. Available at:  www.khaleejtimes.com/coronavirus-pandemic/uae-covid-vaccination-doses-cross-three-million (last accessed February 2021)