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Shaping a World of Healthcare without Boundaries

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By Ziad Salameh, Managing Director & General Manager Gulf, Levant & Pakistan and Middle East Services Leader, Cisco

Healthcare in the 21st century presents enormous challenges. Populations are growing, people are living longer. Many of these patients are living with chronic illnesses that require ongoing care. Compounding this problem is the widespread lack of skilled caregivers and the increasing cost of providing care in the Middle East. In the region, for people living in rural areas, the situation can be even more challenging as rising travel costs as well as travel time can make it even more expensive and inconvenient to seek care.

To meet these challenges, healthcare organizations in the Middle East are looking to extend the delivery of quality care whenever and wherever it is needed. Many are also looking to more efficiently and affordably increase clinical collaboration and enable education and information exchange throughout the healthcare system. With the advent of the Internet of Everything (IoE), connecting people, processes, data and things is now becoming a reality.

What expands with IoE is the boundaries of data reach. Consider for instance, the ability to accurately monitor a sensitive, neo-natal patient, once the infant leaves the hospital. Patient data is securely captured, transmitted and analyzed, triggering an appropriate response as needed. The rapid growth in remote sensors, devices and applications is expanding the realm of medical information and redefining the limits of care. Big Data in health care is stretching boundaries and emerging as data without borders.

Let's take a live example where IoT has had a positive impact closer to home: Cisco's collaboration with the Government of Jordan's series of projects - the Jordan Healthcare Initiative, which uses collaboration and communication technologies to transform healthcare delivery in the country. The telehealth pilot project uses care-at-a-distance technology, such as Cisco HealthPresence, to link urban specialists with distant patients in underserved communities. The initial telehealth pilot linked two rural hospitals -- Al-Mafraq and Queen Rania Governmental Hospitals -- to Prince Hamzah Hospital in the capital city of Amman wherein specialists saw and spoke to patients and local providers as if they were face-to-face. Licensed healthcare professionals staff the remote location and assist with patient examinations while critical data on patient information can be instantly accessed by the specialists through the network-connected medical devices. Given the choice between an appointment in Amman or a scheduled specialist consultation at the telehealth clinic, patients are increasingly choosing the local option.

The challenge facing practitioners today is finding ways to save money without jeopardizing patient care. Gartner predicts that healthcare spending on IT products and services in the Middle East ad Africa will reach USD 3 billion. While this may sound like a lot of money, when you put it into the context of the total cost for healthcare services - its like a drop in the ocean. Overall healthcare expenditure across the GCC is set to grow from USD 39.4 billion in 2013 to reach USD 69.4 billion by 2018 according to Alpen Capital.

Business success is increasingly tied to patient outcomes and patient satisfaction. The message is loud and clear. There are incentives to working smart and a price to pay for resistance. The IoE raises your medical I.Q. by providing you with the right information, at the right time and in the right place. First, it enables you to streamline your workflow. Simple things such as eliminating time spent collecting redundant patient information can significantly lower your cost of service, free staff to perform other duties and provide more quality patient/doctor time.

Another big promise of IoE, is it improves both business and patient outcomes. Increased medical IQ reduces the risk of medical mistakes. While introducing bar codes to drug labels markedly improved the dispensing of prescriptions, IoE makes it possible to go a step further. Doctors know that response to medication differs from patient to patient. Today's biometric and sensor technologies enable doctors to obtain immediate feedback on a drug's efficacy.

The confluence of Big Data and small medical devices is rapidly transforming the world of medicine. The proliferation of sensors - from Apple watches and Fitbit wrist bands to home glucometers and blood pressure cuffs - give consumers instant access to personal measures of well-being. Instant information changes expectations and redefines what's possible. Traditional boundaries in care and delivery are disappearing. As IoE transforms healthcare, providers must innovate in order to remain competitive.

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