x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Integrated healthcare database takes shape

The UAE moves closer to a system giving doctors and nurses electronic access to patient medical records at the touch of a button.

The UAE has moved closer to implementing a health information database that would be linked through computers across all emirates, giving doctors and nurses electronic access to patient medical records at the touch of a button. This month, the Ministry of Health signed a Dh300 million (US$82m) contract for an electronic records system, called Wareed, in the Northern Emirates. The ministry said it would take three to five years to complete. Abu Dhabi has already begun developing its own healthcare information system, which is being built by the same group of companies behind Wareed.

When they are completed, the two systems will be fully compatible, said Amro al Deeb, chief executive of iCapital, the technology company charged with implementing both systems. He also said he thought it was only a matter of time until the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) joined the system, making it truly national. "I think that by next year we will definitely be engaged in discussions," he said. "It is to the benefit of everybody."

Officials in Dubai confirmed that they were working on an electronic health strategy. "Compatibility with other systems in the UAE is a high priority," said Dr Peyvand Khaleghian, the head of the DHA's strategy and innovation department. "And the Dubai Health Authority envisages close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Health Authority Abu Dhabi in this regard." No other country in the Middle East has implemented a compatible national electronic system for health records, said Ziad Arnaout, chief executive of Hybrid Health Solutions. The Dubai-based company is managing the building of databases in Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates.

"It will be the first country in the whole Middle East to have such a comprehensive implementation," he said. "It will be compatible with what is being set up in Dubai. And what was implemented in Abu Dhabi is the same system that will be implemented in the Northern Emirates. It will link all the emirates." The Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has already brought in a system that requires insurance claims to be filed electronically, and plans to introduce more elements in the coming months.

Dr Philipp Vetter, head of strategy at HAAD, said he supports the idea of exchanging electronic data because it benefits both doctors and patients. "HAAD supports global standards in the way electronic healthcare data is exchanged," he said. "This lowers transaction costs and delivers value to patients and doctors alike. "In Abu Dhabi some doctors have already implemented standard electronic claims, and they are happy about how this removes the need to fill out paper forms, and that they spend more time with their patients instead."

Under an electronic system, each patient would be given a unique number and one electronic medical record. That could be accessed anywhere, helping to avoid the sort of medical errors, adverse drug reactions and delays that can happen in a stationary system of paper records. To keep the information secure, the system would limit access to patient files to certain staff. It could also require fingerprints.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, gave his official seal of approval to the system yesterday when he visited the Wareed stand at Gitex, the region's biggest technology exhibition, to learn more about how the database will work. Humaid al Qattami, minister of health, was also present for the unveiling of the system. National healthcare information systems have been some of the most complex, costly and challenging IT projects attempted elsewhere in the world.

The UK's National Health Service launched its initiative, named Connecting For Health, with an estimated £6 billion (Dh38bn) budget. The project is now years behind schedule, with a final cost that could be three times the initial estimate, the UK Department of Health has acknowledged. But Mr Deeb said the companies involved in the UAE initiative have the skills, experience and international partners needed to deliver the project on time and on budget.

"The real focus here needs to be on change management," he said, "Getting the doctors and nurses and everyone involved to utilise the full power of the new technology." munderwood@thenational.ae tgara@thenational.ae