I find it fascinating to observe the rise of digital technology in the healthcare and fitness space. As someone who is quite obsessed with my own fitness - I run mountain ultra-marathons regularly - devices like Fitbits and other wearable fitness tracker tools have been amazing developments and give us access to unprecedented levels of useful data that can help make all kinds of enhancements and improvements to our health.
The region in which I work, Middle East and Africa, is home to some concerning medical issues. The Middle East in particular has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world for example, with the number of diabetes cases forecast to grow by 96 per cent between 2013 and 2035. Heart disease and strokes have also increased by orders of magnitude over the past few years. The way that we live has changed greatly and there is pressure on the healthcare sector to keep innovating and coming up with new ways of treating an ageing, growing population.
Connecting healthcare, connecting hospitals
The changing range of challenges affecting all stakeholders within the healthcare industry has prompted greater need for innovation in service delivery, and that has meant turning to digital technology solutions. Technology is able to help with better resource allocation and patient management in general, and is able to help ease the burden on health systems which were built in a different era to solve a different set of problems.
Harnessing the power of technology and empowering both healthcare professionals and patients with information to manage care better and make informed decisions can help to transform the healthcare industry. One of the projects we are engaged in at Orange in MEA is in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), where our Orange Healthcare division works with health insurers and healthcare organizations such as hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical technology providers and more.
We deliver expertise in four key areas - medical data hosting, digital hospital and telemedicine, Internet of Things (IoT) and digital patient applications. We have developed the Connected Hospital proposition, state of the art medical facilities that use digital technology to give patients the highest levels of care.
The Connected Hospital improves efficiency by reducing patient and data processing times, enhancing communication and collaboration and reduces wasted time by utilizing mobile devices. It reinforces protection to guarantee patient safety and security and is also designed to make patients’ stays more comfortable. For patients who have returned home, Orange’s IoT expertise enables remote monitoring.
Driving tangible improvements
The Orange Connected Hospital programme has been put into practice recently at Dr. Samir Abbas Hospital in KSA, one of Saudi Arabia’s newest hospitals. The project has focused on the ways that we can improve patient care and infant safety using e-health solutions such as infant tracking using RFID to eliminate the risk of baby swapping and abduction.
We are also integrating the hospital’s information management system with its infotainment system, picture archiving solution and infant/abduction protection solution, providing bedside terminals that incorporate on-demand TV and movies with Internet access so that patients can email and browse the web from their bed - and can even view their medical files and their individualized educational material. The project as a whole is designed specifically to improve patient care while lowering costs and improving the overall working environment within the hospital.
What comes next?
Digital technology in healthcare is helping to transform the industry and really drive it forward. I expect us to see tools like Blockchain make their way into the healthcare sector, potentially revolutionizing how healthcare information is stored, shared, secured and paid for. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have an impact too, with AI-enabled clinical decision support tools already being used and likely to increase in the coming years; AI can have a big role in enhancing diagnostic imaging, for example, giving radiologists more advanced interpretation and imaging informatics.
The wearables that I mentioned earlier are also going to continue having a major impact. A recent Frost & Sullivan report projected that global shipments of wearables will grow from around 90 million in 2016 to over 200 million in 2020, with growing demand for them in the MEA region a bit part of that. Wearables are expected to be a central part of the Digital Health Toolkit, with which individuals are encouraged to monitor and look after their health on a personal level, with the wearable device capturing tailored information on lifestyle and behavioral health - behavioral health being their mental and emotional well-being. In MENA, the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) has already seen its potential, launching the CBD Active Saver app a couple of years ago. The app ties their savings account to their wearable fitness tracker and rewards users with higher interest rates the more steps they take in a day. Innovative stuff.
Most runners appreciate the need to work with a coach after several years finishing (or not!) mountain ultra-marathons – the main reason for which is to have someone else help prepare you for a given distance or race, or to motivate you to get outdoors when it rains or snows. A coach avoids overtraining and mitigates the likelihood of injury and illness as you get older or helps you recover after an injury! A coach runs with you and encourages you when you need it and help keep you on track. They tell you when you need to take 3 days off and that no, you cannot run 3 hours twice today. We usually know these answers ourselves, but we need the affirmation of an outside expert source we trust.
I don’t have a coach. The main reason for this is it is too difficult, not to say impossible, for me to plan coaching sessions. Multiple business travels or evening work commitments make it difficult to have face-to-face meeting or joint running sessions with someone who may have other runners to look after.
What caught my attention when running mountain marathons lately is that almost all ultrarunners have wearable gadgets, usually smartwatches or smartphones, to monitor pace, distance, heart rate and elevation. I think the next step could be to integrate interactive coaching applications on runners’ smartphones. Your ‘virtual coach’ will access your data, process it, analyze your physical, mental and emotional well-being and then advise you during or after training exercises or even during a race. “Now you can accelerate and run again”, “Now you should slow down and do a micro-sleep at next checkpoint before climbing the upcoming 1,800-meter face”, and so on. Much in the way a Formula 1 driver is remotely supported by mechanics and team bosses during a race. Exciting times are ahead!
If you would like to talk further about the digital technology healthcare revolution or run with me somewhere in MEA mountains, please feel free to drop me a line! To read further about Orange and the work we do around digital transformation in healthcare, please see: http://www.orange-business.com/en/healthcare
Luc Serviant is vice president, Orange Business Middle East and Africa and has over 25 years of experience in marketing and implementing IT solutions within the enterprise sector, focusing on strategic planning and people management responsibilities.
He leads the business across MEA and the focus of his team is to help companies, government bodies and public-private partnerships harness the power of digital technologies, including in the rapidly expanding business of Smart Cities.