tag this

is e-health a runner in Qatar?
As informAtion And communicAtion technologies hAve grown rApidly in recent yeArs, medicAl science is compelled to keep pAce with whAt they cAn offer. Both segments cAn collABorAte to provide more roBust heAlthcAre products, whilst governments cAn leverAge their flexiBility to implement leAner mAnAgement systems.
by rory c oen

he World Health Organisation (WHO) is promoting a concept called “e-health” and believes it can reduce costs and improve performance. Qatar’s National Health Strategy (NHS) aims to


“improve the health of Qatar’s population with an integrated system of healthcare managed according to world-class standards”. The importance of this development and the financial commitment by the government to the ultimate goal is evident in the increased allocation in the state budget. Huge infrastructure projects are going on and Qatar is gearing up to a requirement of doubling hospital bed capacity by 2013 to 4.4 beds per 1,000 residents. Recent public sector builds include the Cardiology Centre of Excellence, Al Wakra General Hospital, Qatar Foundation’s support to the Sidra Medical Research Centre and further works towards Hamad Medical City. It’s widely expected that most private

58 Qatar today

november 2012

tag this

What is e-health?
dr, najeeb al-shorbaji
director, department of knowledge management and sharing, world health organisation.

opportunity to drive efficiensector operators are eyeing cies through the provision of expansion plans in light of remote access to high-quality the sector being encouraged health information, services to grow private capacity by a and treatment. However, that quarter. opportunity is narrowed by Dr Najeeb Al-Shorbaji, DiQatar’s national health a range of risks that must be rector of Knowledge Managestrategy (nhs) aims to managed effectively from both ment and Sharing at the WHO “improve the health of Qatar’s a legal and an ethical perspecHeadquarters in Geneva, is an tive. It was indeed discouragadvocate of “e-health” and bepopulation With an integrated ing to witness the discussion lieves that a country can have system of healthcare managed turn more towards the legal the greatest infrastructure in according to World class and ethical questions about the world, but it’s futile withe-health than the positives out working standards and standards”. within it. interoperability between all It was argued that an ethe systems. He says that if health strategy won’t work a country wants to adopt e– within a country’s limits health in its national health or indeed internationally – strategy, it needs to be at without a legal and regulathe core of the implementation, as too many countries are taking a “fragmented tory framework that will ensure the implementation and maintenance of internationally recognised best approach”. Al-Shorbaji was chairing a discussion at the W practice in relation to the provision of healthcare Hotel last month which brought together many of and compliance with relevant data protection and the key health administrators in the country. Their confidentiality laws. The challenges associated with mandate was to engage in dialogue to lead to a better regulatory compliance in particular are compounded understanding about what could be done in Qatar to by the cross-border/no-border nature of e-health as a concept. Governance structures will have to be desupport the NHS using the “e-health” concept. fined and adhered to before any implementation of e-health can become a reality. What is e-health? It doesn’t come cheap, either. Al-Shorbaji exOptimal use of e-health initiatives will create the

optimal use of e-health initiatives Will create the opportunity to drive efficiencies through the provision of remote access to high Quality health information, services and treatment. hoWever that opportunity is tapered by a range of risks that must be managed effectively from both a legal and ethical perspective.

november 2012

Qatar today 59

tag this

Qr billion amount allocated to the uK’S n ational Programme for information technology Qr

“if a country decides to have multiple systems because of different sectors such as public, private, military, ngos, that’s ok too, but We Want all entities to be able to report and record data according to certain standards and alloW it to be exchanged betWeen systems.”
plained that “the UK allocated QR75 billion to its National Programme for Information Technology 2003-2011, whilst the US Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health received the same amount for its 2011-2013 plan. Australia spent QR1.7 billion just to design and build a system, without implementation, while Saudi Arabia spent QR13 million just to develop a strategy – that was without using any technology or computers, just to come up with a strategy.” However, e-health does offer the potential to play a critical role in the delivery of services and meeting the growing phenomenon of “patient power” as well as in areas such as telemedicine and education, with the provision of management information on spends and trends that can be used in the improvement of desired outcomes for healthcare in Qatar. If e-health is delivered properly it can incredibly reduce mortality rates by 45% and bring a 20% reduction in the need for emergency admissions. It can lower the number of beds required by 14% and lower the tariff costs by 8%. According to Al-Shorbaji, Qatar has yet to discuss an e-health strategy, but there are many components within the National Health Strategy which refer to e-health and the use of information and communication technology. He believes that it would be a wise decision for Qatar to start looking more closely at the technology. ictQATAR is supporting the Supreme Council of Health (SCH)’s efforts to further digitise healthcare systems and records. The SCH and Hamad Medical Corporation have begun efforts to build a unified health records system, and 500 employees – including doctors, nurses and therapists – have already been trained in how to use the system. Four out of 12 hospitals have already fully integrated the system, and it is now the standard for all new hospitals in Qatar. “There are three things e-health can do,” AlShorbaji said. “Reduce costs, improve the quality of healthcare, and boost equal access to services for everyone. The WHO has plenty of evidence that ehealth is money in the right direction. We have many case studies and research papers. I think it would be a good idea for Qatar to have an e-health strategy or a roadmap for one which is fully compatible with the National Health Strategy. The e-health strategy would have to support the national health strategy. It would be an enabler; it would be supportive and integral. “What we are promoting at the World Health Organisation and with our many partners is to encourage and help countries to develop e-health strategies. We have developed a tool kit for that alone. This includes defining governance structures, what and who are the stakeholders, what should be in the implementation plans and what kind of budget is needed, as well as the policy and strategic directions to take,” he added. Standards and interoperability A major talking point when it comes to implementing an e-health strategy is whether to run with a large integrated system or to have multiple systems that are interoperable. Some health centres in Qatar have begun operations to develop their own systems already. “Of course, there isn’t one definitive answer to that,” says Al- Shorbaji. “It depends on the economic situation and on the size and structure of policies. But there is one thing that is really important, and that is following standards and interoperability protocols at a national level, and then these can be used internationally. From insurance companies’ point of view, it’s important to have the coding done in a standardised way so that when a patient goes from Qatar to a foreign country with a certain diagnosis, then that diagnosis is standardised in its description and its codification. “If a country can afford one big system, that’s great,” Al-Shorbaji continued. “If a country decides to have multiple systems because of different sectors such as public, private, military, NGOs, that’s OK too, but we want all entities to be able to report and record data according to certain standards and allow it to be exchanged between systems. That’s what the regulator and the SCH would like to have. Standardisation and interoperability are the two key aspects of the ehealth concept. “I think if Qatar asked me to give an opinion on the matter I would encourage interoperable systems. If private companies, computer developers and policy makers follow interoperability principles then ehealth works. I don’t mind what computer systems are used as long as they meet the requirements, and the basic principle is to follow standards and interoperability. This is not only at the technology level – it is also at the legal level,” he said

billion amount allocated to the uS h ealth information t echnology for economic and clinical health Qr

billion amount SPent by auStralia to deSign and build a SyStem million amount SPent by Saudi arabia juSt to develoP a Strategy


60 Qatar today

november 2012

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful