VIRTUAL TOUR: How the UAE’s Medcare digitally transformed during the pandemic

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When it comes to private healthcare providers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Medcare is a brand that continuously ranks highly in its category. The premium medical care company – part of parent group Aster DM Healthcare – reportedly treats over 1.2 million patients across 35 specialties every year. These patients come through the doors of four state-of-the-art hospitals and 18 medical centres across Dubai and Sharjah.

Needless to say, digital transformation and connectivity is of the utmost importance to a group so significant in the UAE medical space.

But just what happens when an unexpected pandemic strikes, and disrupts strategy and plans? The key, it seems, is to accept, adapt, and not neglect the digital transformation and technology adoption plans in place, no matter the timing.

Baha Sayiner, Head of IT at Medcare elaborates: “Prior to COVID, we had our strategy around our new electronic medical record [EMR], which was basically a foundation for our hospital. And [then when] COVID happened, of course, a lot of doubt set in as to when [we would] start the project. What do you do about it?

“[But] I’m proud to say that the leadership was very supportive right in the midst of the [pandemic] – we were able to finalise our contract negotiations. Whereas a lot of other organisations might have been pausing or stopping a lot of their projects, we decided to move ahead. That was the strategy.”

CRITICAL CARE & ONGOING WORK BEHIND THE SCENES

As the UAE focused on its response to the rapid outbreak of coronavirus, hospitals and medical centres played their part to help. According to the International Hospital Federation (IHF), Medcare was amongst the first private healthcare brands in the UAE to admit and treat COVID-19 cases, partnering with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and designating two of its hospitals as dedicated COVID-19  facilities.

A lot was happening in the year 2020, but as with many organisations, the unexpected changes helped speed up the adoption of new ways of working.

“We had been on this digital journey much before COVID, but it [was at] a slow pace,” reveals Medcare Group CEO, Dr Shanila Laiju. “I think the pandemic actually accelerated [Medcare’s] digital transformation journey, because [of the complete restriction of movement]. 

“We wanted to understand how to reach our patients – we wanted to make sure that our patients are taken care of, and their needs are met.”

And so work continued as normal, says Sayiner: “We pressed on. We built up our application team; hired new [talent]. We got our ‘kickoff’ started, and we started working in a new way.”

To avoid setbacks with the adoption and implementation of Medcare’s EMR, it was important to involve clinicians from the start, he says.

“I think it’s well known that these EMR projects are clinically-led; they’re not IT-led projects. What [we did] initially is make sure that clinicians were at the forefront of this project from the beginning, setting up our workstreams – all the clinicians were aligned as the lead and the co-lead of every workstream. 

“[That way,] all of the workflows [are] reviewed and signed off by the clinicians. When it’s time to go live with the system, we’re able to sign off, train [staff], and bring it to life with minimal surprises.” 

WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE USER?

The pandemic highlighted the need for better connectivity, because it became important to all involved. Knowing the value of what’s being introduced is crucial for adoption, states Medcare’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), Veneeth Purushotaman.

“If the user does not see the ‘What’s in it for me?’, it won’t succeed. It’s very important that they realise the benefit,” he says, citing telemedicine as an example.

“Telemedicine, as a technology for remote care, existed a decade ago – there’s nothing new about it. But the very fact that people – doctors and patients alike – were very open to using [it during the pandemic] was because they saw the benefit. So, I believe that’s what matters.”

TOP TIER TECH

Citing Medcare’s adoption of the healthcare information system, TrakCare by InterSystems, Laiju admits it was a “bold” move for the brand.

“When people were a little sceptical [about making] a lot of investments [in technology], not knowing where the world was [heading], we took a bold step investing in InterSystems. That shows our vision towards a digital journey; to make sure that we [offer] a seamless journey for our patients. 

“There is proper documentation; there is a proper enhanced system.”

Adds Purushotaman: “We work very closely with the DHA, the Ministry of Health (MoH), and other authorities in the UAE… From [my experience] this is one of the regions where the government and the regulators are ahead in the game than many others are. 

“That’s another reason why we chose a tier one product like TrakCare, because it gives you that [feeling] of hitting the road running.”

PATIENTS COME FIRST

The advantages of digital connectivity and technology adoption in a healthcare setting are obviously familiar. For Medcare, it’s important that these advantages are realised by patients.

“Patient-centred care starts right at the first interaction of the patient with Medcare. We value the patient. That’s the most important thing for us,” says Dr Rahul Deshmukh, Medical Director at Medcare Orthopaedic & Spine Hospital. 

Touching upon the advantages of digital transformation, he lists 24/7 accessibility, continuity of care, and patient safety. 

“That is very important,” he says. “Whatever we do, patient safety remains at the centre of what the healthcare industry is doing. As long as patients remain safe, the industry works.”

LOOKING AHEAD

There’s already a strategy set in stone for the next few years for Medcare’s four hospitals – Medcare Hospital Al Safa, Medcare Hospital Sharjah, Medcare Women & Children Hospital, and Medcare Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital in Dubai – and its medical centres, Laiju confirms.

“The complete four to five years… We have a big vision. We have strategy planning that is done. I think there’s a lot of investment that’s going to go into digital technology and innovation.”

Purushotaman concludes: “One of the key tenets of our vision is to make healthcare affordable and accessible, and I believe that can only be done in today’s age using technology. 

“Technology not just improves and gives us the accessibility leaps and bounds, but [it] also helps bring [costs] down overall in the long run. Initially, it may sound [like] it costs a lot; [it’s a lot of] investment in technology. But that’s how technology is going to make a big difference in making healthcare affordable, accessible, [and] ensuring that the patient experience is top class.”