Discussion at Harvard on technology and innovation to improve healthcare delivery in the MENA region

With the rapid advancement of technology, it is vital to integrate these transformational changes in various industries for continuous advancements and transformations. One of the fields that are likely to be enhanced by technological advancements is healthcare and hospital systems and its management around the world.

That was one of the hot topics of discussion at the annual Arab Conference at Harvard University this year during the Healthcare Technology and Innovation panel that was led by Dr. Sahar Hashmi. Dr. Sahar Hashmi is an MD, PhD in Healthcare Systems Management from MIT Sloan School of Management & IDSS with a Masters in Systems Design and Management MIT as well. She is also the CEO and Founder of her own Healthcare Consulting firm in the USA.

Over the years, healthcare startups have become more prominent in the MENA region – MAGNiTT currently lists 565 healthcare startups in the MENA region and has recorded a steady increase in the number of deals in healthcare every year since 2010, growing from 1 deal in 2010 to 23 in 2018. However, the startup ecosystem in MENA is still relatively nascent, with FinTech, E-commerce and Transport & Logistics startups accounting for most of the deals in 2018.

Dr. Sahar Hashmi reports to MAGNiTT; “one of the greatest disruptions and breakthroughs in the field of healthcare management is the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare, which will revolutionize the healthcare delivery process as we know it.” She went on to state that “the magnificent power of artificial intelligence to process the unstructured patient datasets (from monitoring devices and the IT systems) will help better predict, diagnose, treat and manage chronic disease patients for example patients with diabetes and blood pressure. There has been discussion in the scientific arena on advanced deep learning neural networks that will eventually replace certain fields of medicine such as pathology and radiology by pattern recognition robots. She also said that Big data analytics (from electronic health records and the hospital IT systems) has been predicted as the possible next game changer in the decision-making process for the healthcare stakeholders in disease management. With these evolving innovations in healthcare management, one wonders how healthcare startups can leverage these technologies to improve the regional healthcare industry.

The panel discussion at Harvard was kicked off by Dr. Sahar Hashmi discussing the current state of the affairs of healthcare systems management. She stated: “When discussing challenges in healthcare systems management, three words came up immediately: access, quality and cost. These are global challenges, not limited to a specific country or part of the world. Healthcare startups, however, could play a key role in resolving these challenges by using existing and advanced technologies, thereby improving healthcare delivery to patients.” She was joined by a panel of tech-driven startup founders, who provided their insights on the impact of their healthcare technology startup on the care delivery process and three main issues of access, quality and cost.

Dr Saba Alzabin, CSO at Nabta Health, a UAE-based startup, explained how their platform has helped resolve critical women's health concerns in the MENA region. Access to healthcare can be improved by the provision of easier access to specialist doctors and clinics, particularly in the MENA region, where there are cultural barriers surrounding certain health concerns such as fertility and/or sexual health.  Nabta app provides private and secure digital accessibility and medical solutions to women through their mobile phones. Women are able to order home kits and use smart medical devices to measure their hormone levels and other physiological parameters to monitor their health. 

Nabta Health is the first to offer a platform that allows medical access and smart testing devices specifically for women needs in the MENA region.

Highlighting another challenge in the region, quality, Jalil Allabadi, CEO and managing partner at Altibbi, explained how there is no proper system of PCPs in many countries in the MENA region. Patients can individually choose what specialty they need then book appointments accordingly with their assigned providers. Patients are often overwhelmed by the medical knowledge available online and they can't tell which online source is more ideal.

Altibbi, a Dubai-based startup that has raised $8.5M to date, provides direct and real-time phone/chat access to a GP within less than 1 minute. General Practitioners (GPs or PCPs) can normally resolve 50% of all patients concerns and conditions over the phone. Patients whose conditions cannot be addressed over a phone/chat conversation are referred to a specialist (through a full-fledged booking system).

Adding to the access and cost challenges in the MENA region, Dr. Fathi Idris Ali, Co-founder and board member of Alistishari, a recent startup, explained how their web-based platform allows specific region-based patients to connect to an international audience of medical professionals.

Nowadays, many patients around the globe travel abroad to seek medical care and second opinions – a common phenomenon in the MENA countries. Alistishari aims to match patients with a large panel of highly-trained medical professionals from around the world, who volunteer their time and expertise to provide advice and second opinion on medical conditions. Dr. Ali emphasized that his simple technology can help improve access and save cost at the same time.

Dr Sahar Hashmi states to MAGNiTT: “the immediate challenge is how to integrate these innovative advanced technologies into the healthcare and hospital systems in the most efficient manner and with the alignment of all healthcare stakeholders in the system. As we all know that each hospital management system is unique and different even within the same hospital networks and the existence of enormous variations in the hospital systems is an unavoidable reality.”

There is an increasing need for experts and consultants who can tackle such mammoth healthcare systems to transform and integrate the advanced and innovative technologies. There is no set standard way to tackle the issue of technology integration into hospital systems. It can be done efficiently only if you have the combination of certain skills and expertise, for example, design skills to redesign the care delivery processes, hospital operations management, familiarity and knowledge of the advanced technologies using artificial intelligence and machine learning, skills to measure the outcomes and assess the impact of these advanced technologies. It is inevitable that these fast-paced innovative technologies will transform and disrupt the entire healthcare ecosystems in the near future.” Dr. Sahar Hashmi’s own consulting firm, based in the US, specializes in providing such combination of specific expertise to hospitals and healthcare systems.

So, how much of an impact will the advanced robotic technologies have on the MENA region, or in other words, will robot healthcare providers replace human providers in the future? The question was posed to the panelists for discussion.

Dr. Saba Alzabin predicted that there will always be a hybrid system where both robots and human providers will work together, whereas Jalil Allabadi predicted that robot providers may resolve the ‘shortage of providers’ problem in the system. Dr. Ali, on the other hand, believed that robot providers can never completely replace human providers and he doesn’t believe that this is going to happen anytime soon. 

All three speakers, however, agreed that healthcare startups may disrupt the future of healthcare delivery system around the world. The role of regional healthcare startups in that disruption seems promising but yet to be determined.

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About Dr. Sahar Hashmi

Dr. Sahar Hashmi was the panel chair and moderator of the Technology and Innovation panel at the Harvard Conference. Dr. Sahar Hashmi is an MD with a masters in systems design and management and a PhD in healthcare systems management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is the CEO and founder of her own healthcare consulting firm in the USA which tackles with integration and assessment of advanced innovative technology into the Healthcare and Hospital Systems. Dr. Sahar Hashmi also advices VCs for investment in healthcare device (digital heath) and biotech startups. Her admin can be reached at [email protected]

About MAGNiTT:

MAGNiTT is the most comprehensive data platform for investors, entrepreneurs and corporates in the Middle East and North Africa. Based out of Dubai, UAE, MAGNiTT connects entrepreneurs directly with ecosystem stakeholders including funders, mentors, support services, and talent. Startups can apply for funding directly to VCs and angel networks using their MAGNiTT profile. Simultaneously, Investors, Corporates, Mentors and Service providers are able to review information on over 10,000 startups, including funding history. MAGNiTT has a data-driven approach to educating users on the funding landscape through analytical reporting and data dissemination.