Artificial intelligence (AI), mobile apps, telemedicine, and other advances are creating a world in which care is based on data, and is accessible anywhere, anytime.
Technological innovation and broader societal changes are shifting the balance of power in healthcare from providers to patients, creating forces that industry stakeholders cannot ignore. Providers under pressure to manage costs are looking for ways to become more agile, and provide care more effectively. The same wave of personalization and consumerization
that ushered in analytics-based recommendation engines for entertainment has programmed people to want healthcare that is customized, personalized, and delivered in a way that works
with their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these developments.
To make the most of the opportunities that these forces represent, Middle East governments, regulators, and healthcare providers need to work together in four areas: strategy, policy, and regulation; governance and partnerships; funding and financing; and information and communication technology (ICT).
In particular, governments should join with public-sector agencies and other entities to create frameworks that accelerate healthcare transformation, and that provide the necessary funding and data resources. Regulators should revise policies and standards to put new healthcare regulations into effect faster. They must develop a national strategy for healthcare innovation that incorporates specific policies, regulations, and standards. Healthcare providers should continue putting patients at the center of all they do while simultaneously cultivating partnerships, and improving their financial and digital acumen.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a wave of healthcare advances unparalleled in recent history. Consumer products companies retooled manufacturing lines to produce personal protective equipment. Healthcare providers switched to video calls to treat patients when lockdowns canceled in-person appointments. Pharmaceutical companies rushed vaccines through the development process in record time, with a similarly swift response from regulators.
The pandemic accelerated three forces that had already been reshaping healthcare: the increased use of technology; a need for healthcare delivery to be more resilient, agile, and productive; and consumerization, personalization, and the imperative to treat the whole person (see Exhibit).
New technologies are creating a world in which care is based on data, and is accessible anywhere, anytime. Healthcare is taking advantage of technology to move beyond the hospital, clinic, and pharmacy, and into the virtual world.
AI and quantum computing
AI and quantum computing are among the technologies that hold the most promise for healthcare. AI helps providers come up with faster, more accurate, less invasive diagnoses, in many cases based on less information from an individual patient, and less invasive procedures. An algorithm codeveloped by Google’s AI unit DeepMind, for example, is more accurate than doctors at diagnosing breast cancer from scanning mammograms.1
AI was used extensively during the COVID-19 pandemic for screenings, contact tracing, and predicting people’s risk of developing the virus.2 Medical providers also have used AI to help with diagnosis of the virus, repurpose existing drugs to treat it, and manage healthcare supplies.3
Quantum computing will be able to process information more accurately and efficiently than most traditional computers. This allows healthcare providers to speed up calculations used in drug discovery and hospital logistics, run virtual clinical trials, and perform genetic sequencing, among other things.4 Quantum computing could one day run clinical-decision support systems, allowing clinicians to analyze petabytes of historical data to make better patient care decisions.
Health data applications
Devices and applications that collect health data have become ubiquitous. Apps for smartphones and smartwatches can measure blood oxygen level, take a pulse, and if needed, dial emergency services. A phone’s location history can measure the outcome of a treatment regime or identify potential health risks. Payors have begun to offer people incentives to use mobile devices to track and share health data to provide better care.
The pandemic kicked off widespread development of contact tracing mobile apps. It also led to increased demand for data and connectivity infrastructure worldwide, and an increase in collaborations between health workers, app developers, and data scientists.
“Healthcare is taking advantage of technology to move beyond the hospital, clinic, and pharmacy, and into the virtual world.”
The future of healthcare will look very different from the way it is being provided, financed, and regulated today. The major driving forces are technological advances, greater focus on resilience, agility, and productivity, along with treating the whole person. Healthcare stakeholders have the opportunity to actively shape this ongoing transition — rather than merely responding to it. Collectively, they can better serve their constituents, by working together to craft strategies and policies, support and adopt innovation, and develop the necessary data infrastructure.