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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

True healthcare innovation is behind the scenes

Futuristic inventions can't be the basis for a durable and reliable healthcare system

A laboratory technician at work in the histopathology unit of Al Borg Medical Laboratories in Abu Dhabi, where up to 5,000 tests a day are conducted. Irene García León for The National
A laboratory technician at work in the histopathology unit of Al Borg Medical Laboratories in Abu Dhabi, where up to 5,000 tests a day are conducted. Irene García León for The National

The very latest innovations in healthcare were on show at the Dubai Health Forum this week, which saw experts from 18 countries congregate in the emirate. The forum was designed to encourage the kind of ideas-sharing that will characterise the UAE’s future knowledge economy. It is also part of a concerted effort to market the country as a global healthcare hub, attracting patients – or medical tourists – from the wider region and beyond. Early indications suggest the forum will strengthen both objectives. On show yesterday were innovations in 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchain and telemedicine. The forum builds on a legacy of strong national interest in healthcare. There is, though, an acceptance that healthcare must be improved in the UAE, and the Dubai Health Forum is a step in the right direction.

Nevertheless, an over-reliance on futuristic healthcare innovations would be reductive. The $500 Flow Neuroscience device presented at the forum, for instance, claims to reduce the symptoms of depression by 35 per cent by sending a low electric current into the brain. Such solutions should be part of a broader infrastructure of facilities, clinics and medical professionals. There is no single prescription that can be written to develop a better healthcare system.

Dubai, known for embracing the latest technological innovations, was the ideal location for the forum. But it is piecemeal developments behind the scenes, rather than high-tech inventions, that bolster dependable healthcare provision. A strong regulatory framework ensures this country will avoid becoming a testing ground for futuristic healthcare solutions, and help build on the substantial progress that has been made.

The year has started well for healthcare in the UAE. Dubai’s Latifa Hospital announced last week it will expand its facilities, doubling the number of babies it delivers each year. In addition, the Dubai Health Authority has created a new annual fund to offer free and discounted treatments to low-income patients. Medicine price-reduction initiatives – overseen by the Ministry of Health – have continued in earnest, with more than 8,732 medicines discounted since 2011. Further efforts to foster domestic health provision and train home-grown doctors would be welcome. Ultimately the future of the nation’s healthcare lies in durable initiatives like these, rather than the futuristic innovations on show this week, although there is always room for both.