Sustainable Innovation: Future-Proofing the Healthcare Ecosystem

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Sustainable Innovation: Future-Proofing the Healthcare Ecosystem

In a time of swift technological progress, shifting demographics, and environmental challenges, the healthcare sector is at a pivotal point where sustainable innovation is not just beneficial but necessary. This was the central theme of a session titled “Sustainable Innovation: Future-Proofing the Healthcare Ecosystem,” which took place at the 2nd Elets Global Healthcare Summit and Awards on 23 November in Dubai. The discussion focused on exploring the strategies, technologies, and collaborative approaches essential for maintaining a resilient, efficient, and effective healthcare ecosystem for future generations. Edited excerpts:

 

Dr Taha Alhazarmerdi, UAE Country General Director, Dr. Sulaiman AL Habib Medical Group

“Being in this country for the past 25 years, I have been part of the development of the healthcare system in the UAE, starting from Abu Dhabi and extending to Dubai. The challenges faced by any robust and resilient ecosystem, especially in the context of healthcare, are multifaceted. There are several stakeholders in this field. Firstly, there are the actors – those who participate in the healthcare system. Secondly, there is the system itself, which includes the processes that build up this system and the innovations that facilitate the implementation of these processes. Thirdly, there is the product, which focuses on customer care and patient care. Sustainability requires a kind of intermediary, connecting all these elements into what we call a successful, dynamic, and proper healthcare system”, Dr Taha stated.

To build a sustainable healthcare system, one needs to focus on various parameters. Starting with the actors, these include the patient, the community, the population, the regulators, and healthcare providers at many levels. Looking into strategies, particularly in the post-pandemic era, it’s evident that countries focusing on healthcare education and developing preventive strategies, rather than curative ones, fare better. People often think that opening more hospitals equates to a better healthcare system, but it’s prevention that truly enhances healthcare, as an Arabic saying goes: “Prevention is better than treatment.”

To build a resilient ecosystem, we must start with the people themselves. We need to raise their level of awareness about their health. Considerable funds are currently being spent on treating diseases like diabetes and ischemic heart disease. However, starting with a healthy lifestyle and raising awareness about the importance of managing conditions like hypertension and diabetes can lead to less demand in hospitals. Furthermore, hospitals and healthcare providers should design their services to minimise frequent hospital visits.

Additionally, he said, “There’s also a need to shift the mentality of doctors. They should understand that patient care is not just about prescribing medication or performing surgery; it’s about educating the patient before and after surgery and building a partnership with them. This approach leads to what is known as value-based care, where the patient is an informed partner in their treatment plan. This can significantly reduce complications, litigations, and the overall burden on the health system.”

In conclusion, to build a healthy and sustainable ecosystem, it’s crucial to develop intermediary relationships between the actors – the patients, doctors, nurses, and the community – as well as the processes themselves. Many hospitals should annually revise their approach to become more patient-oriented. Ultimately, the product of this approach will be healthier individuals. If I were the Minister of Health and had a budget, 70% of it would be allocated to prevention, not treatment.

Prof. Abdel Rahman Omer, Group Medical Director, Burjeel Holdings

Sustainability in health services is a significant and multifaceted question. It concerns whether we are facing sustainable stagnation or sustainable development. The concept of sustainability in healthcare primarily aims to enhance current services while safeguarding future healthcare for upcoming generations. This involves balancing present needs, laying a foundation for the future, and planning for continuous health system operation.

He said, “Today’s health systems are intricate, impacting individuals, societies, governments, and the economy. One critical aspect is their environmental footprint; health systems are major contributors to carbon emissions, accounting for about 35% of the world’s pollution. This comes from non-recyclables, waste products, radiation, and more. The upcoming COP28 conference is expected to focus on these issues.”

Innovations in healthcare can be divided into two categories: current applications and deep tech. Deep tech lays the foundation for future innovations, allowing for branching out and development. Current innovations, like apps or systems, aim for immediate application. A sustainable health system seeks continuous improvement in quality of care, encompassing both prevention and cure.

“Innovative technologies, often termed disruptive innovations, are reshaping healthcare delivery to be more efficient, reproducible, and measurable. Human progress has always been about increasing speed and efficiency, from walking to rockets. Similarly, current healthcare innovations aim to provide top-quality care quickly to the largest population possible”, he averred.

Artificial intelligence (AI), now often referred to as augmented intelligence, exemplifies this trend. AI is utilized in various fields like radiology, histopathology, and endoscopy, improving accuracy, reducing errors, and speeding up processes. For instance, AI can assist in organizing schedules for doctors and nurses, or in accurately identifying polyps during endoscopies.

He added, “A notable example is the new Google Chatbot, which can transcribe medical consultations, capturing history, examination findings, and care plans, thereby allowing healthcare professionals to focus more on direct patient interaction. This leads to improved patient care and satisfaction.”

Sustainability in healthcare also requires attention to the satisfaction of staff, patients, stakeholders, and regulatory bodies. It’s essential to adopt a holistic approach rather than focusing narrowly on specific aspects.

Kartik Thakrar, Director and CEO, Novitas Healthcare/Medicentres

Kartik stated, “In discussing the ideal scenario where AI and various technological innovations, including genomics, assist us, there’s often a significant disparity between this envisioned future and the current reality on the ground. Many health providers, even among the largest, lack access to a unified health information system. This gap between our aspirations and the present situation is vast. To bridge this, it’s crucial to integrate all available innovative tools in the market. However, the reality is starkly different, especially in regions like the UAE, where a substantial portion of healthcare expenditure is on outpatient services. These services are still transactional rather than comprehensive, with patients visiting different clinics without consistent end-to-end management.”

Implementing an Integrated Health System in such a scenario is a daunting task. For it to be successful, the use of technology and digital innovations must not only be profitable but also sustainable. Consider the example of 3D-printed orthopedic casts, which offer convenience, speed, and cost reduction. Despite these benefits, their adoption in the UAE is minimal. This situation underscores a broader issue: the healthcare sector is often the last to adopt new technologies and innovations. Therefore, a significant behavioural shift is required.

Healthcare is at the beginning of embracing these changes. Providers need to take the initiative in guiding all stakeholders through this transition – not just patients, but also doctors, payers, vendors, and regulators. If providers do not actively facilitate this change, the healthcare system will remain stagnant, trapped in outdated practices and perspectives.

Namit Chugh, VC, W Health Ventures/2070 Health

Namit commenced the session by stating, “The discussion of digital health innovation focuses on three types of innovations that can significantly impact the healthcare ecosystem.”

Firstly, clinical innovation is crucial. This involves introducing new medical practices or treatments that can change how healthcare is delivered. A prime example is the emergence of medical weight loss treatments which have gained global attention. The question arises whether traditional hospitals or new-age digital health companies should spearhead such innovations.

Secondly, business model innovation is essential. This approach doesn’t necessarily require the creation of new infrastructures, as existing hospitals can be leveraged. Instead, it involves partnering with these establishments to distribute existing innovations more effectively. This model aims to enhance access, provide better care, and focus on more preventive health solutions that hospitals might not prioritise, such as obesity, chronic pain, or mental health solutions.

Lastly, the role of artificial intelligence (AI) is a buzzword but also a critical area of development. While AI’s potential to augment the capacity of radiologists and histopathologists is acknowledged, its adoption will take time due to the necessity of clinical safeguards. AI in healthcare must be approached cautiously, given the life-and-death stakes involved. An immediate application of AI could be in administrative tasks like enhancing nurse efficiency, discharge automation, and prior authorization. These applications are already being explored in various countries, including the UAE.

Concluding the session, he said, these three types of innovations – clinical, business model, and AI – are pivotal in shaping the digital health ecosystem and can create significant impacts on patient care and the utilisation of existing hospital infrastructures. This is what keeps the sector exciting and forward-looking in the Middle East region.

Dr Rashmi Saluja, Executive Chairperson – Religare Enterprises Limited, Non-Executive Chairperson of Care Health Insurance, Religare Broking Limited and CMD, Religare Finvest Ltd.

India’s healthcare system is characterised by a blend of preventive, curative, and holistic wellness practices, a tradition documented for over 10,000 years. This rich heritage positions us uniquely in the global health sector. Our doctors and researchers are at the forefront, not just within our borders, but globally, contributing significantly to healthcare advancements.

Rashmi added, “The COVID-19 pandemic brought profound changes, reshaping our understanding of healthcare. It highlighted the need to balance structured, institutional healthcare with indigenous practices and medicines. This dichotomy – the interplay between traditional methods and modern healthcare advancements – is vital in our approach to global health challenges.”

Pre-pandemic, healthcare was largely defined by its infrastructure and alignment with the pharmaceutical industry. However, the post-COVID era demands a broader perspective. We must explore how technologies like AI can enhance patient care without escalating costs, ensuring accessibility even to the most vulnerable sections of society.

“In India, our healthcare penetration is currently around 12-14%. To create a true revolution in healthcare, we must aim for over 80% penetration, ensuring that our strategies are inclusive and far-reaching. This goal demands a focus on sustainability, moving beyond mere infrastructure to a holistic approach that includes health insurance, adequate treatment spanning preventive, curative, and traditional practices, and a balanced role for the pharmaceutical industry”, she stated.

As we aim to become a 5 trillion economy and maintain our position among the top global economies, healthcare will play a pivotal role. This journey involves harnessing our young demographic while caring for our elderly, who benefit from a combination of modern and traditional healthcare practices.

Finally, global healthcare cannot be standardised. It must be tailored to the unique needs and practices of each country. We must advocate for collaborative research and data sharing, ensuring that innovations and solutions are inclusive and relevant to diverse healthcare systems.

In conclusion, as we discuss preventive, curative, and wellness-focused healthcare, it’s crucial to adopt a mindful approach. The future of global healthcare depends on integrating traditional wisdom with modern innovation, ensuring equitable and sustainable health for all.

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