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Rising to the challenge

Rising to the challenge

Georges Chidiac, General Manager and SVP, SAICOHEALTH, explains why data standardisation, transparency, cybersecurity and mergers & acquisitions are top of the agenda for the GCC’s healthcare industry operators

Data has always been of real importance in the healthcare industry, and in today’s digital world, it is acting as a driver within the industry itself. In today’s complex healthcare landscape, with a broad range of stakeholders playing a part in the wider system, data standardisation has become more important than ever.

Data puts the industry in a strong position. It fuels innovation in research and offers a more complete picture of patient health while also improving patient care and streamlining the way that healthcare providers can operate.

Data standardisation is critical to our industry. But inefficiency is not an option. Data collection can vary greatly from one organisation to another and incomplete and inaccurate data collection can result in anything from slower organisational workflows through to, patient matching issues and patient health in jeopardy.

For organisations to thrive and deliver efficient healthcare of great value, and for a more efficient and accurate healthcare model, proper governance is required, while training and coaching is needed for medical personnel to emphasise the importance of relevant and consistent data for downstream analytics.

In healthcare, data standardisation provides a common language and set of expectations that enable interoperability between systems, devices and medical practitioners. To seamlessly improve the overall coordination and delivery of healthcare, data exchange and standards should permit meaningful data sharing between clinicians, lab assistants, hospitals, pharmacies, insurance providers and patients.

Achieving transparency in healthcare is key

Technology advancements and waste in the healthcare service delivery process are factors amongst others that underline a pressing need for better outcomes in healthcare affordability. On one hand investment is required; on the other, providers must deliver more cost-effective solutions. This seemingly contradictory dilemma can be addressed through greater transparency in costs and tariffs, alignment on quality metrics, the development of centres of excellence and a common, industry-wide approach to technology use.

There is increasing pressure across the industry on providers, insurers and even pharmaceutical companies to offer cost transparency to patients. While it’s challenging for providers or an insurer to come up with an accurate cost for a healthcare service – given the complexity associated with a healthcare costing exercise – the industry needs greater transparency. Patients must understand how cost enhances experience; they need visibility on how much they need to pay upfront and what amount can be reimbursed later. For the most part, patients remain in the dark about what they will be asked to pay when they visit a healthcare centre. Without transparency, patients can’t ‘shop’ for the right healthcare provider and physicians can’t make cost-conscious decisions. Indeed, transparency will be the watch-word going forward.

Cybersecurity is key in a complex healthcare space

Technology is changing every industry every day and healthcare providers are not immune to this change, we can see it with data and with the tools that will help us achieve greater transparency. While most recognise the efficiency and service delivery benefits derived from connected healthcare technology, including big data, analytics and the ultimate impact on competitiveness and bottom-line profitability or affordability, there are inherent risks associated with technological advancements.

Cybersecurity risks are growing at an alarming rate internationally and while data is key to efficiency and competitiveness, failure to protect data can leave providers and patients vulnerable.

The issue has been brought into sharp focus in the UAE where important changes are afoot for any organisation which gathers, processes or transfers electronic health data originating in the Emirates. New data protection measures and regulations around the use of a centralised database managed by the UAE’s Ministry of Health, which include a general ban on transferring health data outside the Emirates, will undoubtedly have a significant impact on healthcare service providers operating domestically.

In February, the UAE issued Federal Law No. 2 of 2019, which regulates the use of information technology and communications (ITC) in the healthcare sector. The law aims to lift the bar on health data protection and ensure the sector operates in line with best international practice.

Having come into effect in May, the law advances regulation of sensitive data – a move I expect to see replicated across the region. As one might expect, patient protection and confidentiality are key. Applying to all UAE-based healthcare service providers – whether onshore or offshore, i.e. operating out of the country’s many free zones, including Dubai Healthcare City – the law extends to health insurance providers, including brokers or other services which directly or indirectly involve the handling of electronic health data.

When two become one – Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) is the way forward

Most people associate the term M&A with large, high-profile companies combining into a single entity. While the M&A concept is the same in the healthcare sector, i.e. two or more healthcare or insurance providers integrating to become a larger entity, the impact on individuals’ lives is much more significant.

M&As in the UAE and wider region should realise a reduction in costs by consolidating areas such as IT and supply chain management. When clinics and hospitals merge, patients often benefit from better trading terms between insurance and healthcare providers. M&As also enable the new entity to use saved funds to improve patient services and empower insurers to expand benefits on existing plans and patient access. Greater size often means increase in expertise, efficiency, availability of resources and purchasing power, thereby creating and elevating economies of scale.

There are undoubtedly challenges around M&As in healthcare, specifically due diligences, identifying synergies, standardizing procedures post- M&A, choosing the right technology, and adhering to a new culture and way of working. As with M&As in any industry, there can also be problems with blending disparate business profiles, organisational structures and assuring quality control. That said, the financial advantages most certainly outweigh the negatives in healthcare M&As, when integrated correctly. By merging, healthcare entities can create real strength and depth in services, meaning patients receive optimal best care. 

Healthcare providers in the GCC stand at a crossroads and there is a genuine chance to make improvements that will benefit the consumer, the industry and the business itself. Efficiency is key to this opportunity and healthcare providers should take the opportunity to consider their options in data, transparency and cybersecurity.

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