Stepping into the World of Healthcare, Artificial Intelligence, and Robotics

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The following was originally published in the October 2019 special print edition of Medical Tourism Magazine, which was initially available at the 12th annual World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in Abu Dhabi.

Artificial Intelligence and robotics are becoming a much-lived reality in today’s modern world. They have become more capable to do what humans do more efficiently, accurately and, most importantly, at a lower cost. From early times when movies such as I, Robot and Bicentennial Man were merely wishful science fiction, to today’s social humanoid AI robots like Sophia. AI and robots are providing innovative solutions across many industries, that no scientist would have foreseen years ago. They are becoming an important part of the healthcare sector globally in not only treating diseases or carrying out intricate procedures but also supporting well-being, prevention, and early intervention. With that said, the healthcare sector is relying on technology to tackle some of its biggest challenges, and all predictions are now pointing to an AI-led future.

One of AI’s biggest potential benefits is to help embed a culture of prevention within the community for people to stay healthy and reduce their need for physicians, which in turn reduces capacity and financial burdens on health systems.

This can be achieved through AI-enabled applications and technologies that rely on data gathering and the adoption of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). As of last year, some 3.7 million medical devices in use were connected to and monitored various parts of the body to inform healthcare decisions worldwide. It is expected that IoMT will be the next big wave, with the global IoMT device market’s value reaching $158 billion by 2022, according to Deloitte. Whereas, the Middle East and Africa’s IoMT market growth is expected to increase by more than three folds during the same period.  

The emergence of such change agents—be it AI, virtual reality or robotics—is opening new gateways for tech-enabled care and personalised treatment. With this new wave of technology upon us, it is vital for organisations to shift their strategies and embrace the inevitable future. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, Abu Dhabi was one of the competitive cities ahead of the artificial intelligence race. The Department of Health—Abu Dhabi (DoH) was the region’s first regulatory body to issue the first AI policy in the healthcare sector to control and regulate its implementation. This came in light of the government’s announcement of the UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy that aims to deploy AI tools and tech into various sectors, and following the appointment of the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence.  With the UAE government and DoH’s full support, healthcare facilities in Abu Dhabi were quick to adopt some of the latest innovations in healthcare.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, for instance, has started deploying robotic surgery since 2017. They have successfully carried out the UAE’s first robotic hysterectomy and was the first hospital in the region to perform a robotic triple coronary artery bypass and robotic mitral valve repair.

Additionally, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi also carried out an operation for the removal of a tumor from a patient’s spinal cord, utilising 3D printing technology. Although these examples signify a major leap in the region’s healthcare development, DoH has bigger ambitions to embed technology and innovation into every aspect of the healthcare where it can bring benefits to the community, providers and healthcare professionals.

To initiate this, DoH started empowering young talents and tapping into their creative potential to embed innovation in the DNA of Abu Dhabi. As such, DoH revealed for the first time its newest initiative—the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab—earlier this year. The AI Lab is the first-of-its-kind initiative by a healthcare regulator in the region that seeks to accelerate the development and adoption of healthcare technology solutions. It provides a space for innovators and incubators to identify, develop, as well as test new technologies and AI-driven healthcare solutions. Innovations at the AI Lab will be focused on four key strategic pillars: wellness and prevention; chronic disease management; clinical care, and regulatory management. The lab is dedicated to developing healthcare solutions through emerging technologies including AI, Blockchain, genomics, predictive analytics and the IoMT, among others.

Stemming from a firm belief that the future will be shaped by youth, the AI Lab has recruited ambitious, forward-thinking and tech-savvy talents who will lead the sector’s digital transformation strategy. The AI Lab have already announced a number of home-grown AI-driven healthcare solutions including the “My Health Coach” app which is a health and wellness mobile application, designed to provide citizens and residents with the tools they need to optimise their wellbeing through an engaging and interactive platform. In the first phase, the app will be made available for DoH employees. Following a trial period of six months, it will be available for Abu Dhabi Government employees. By the end of this year, the app will be open to the public. Available in both English and Arabic, and compatible across all major operating systems, the app seamlessly syncs to users’ fitness trackers of choice, providing personalised, informative and anticipatory coaching and guidance, according to the data collected by users.

The Abu Dhabi’s unprecedented shift towards technology and AI in the healthcare sector also saw the launch of the Open Data Dashboards initiative. The online portal relays the most up-to-date healthcare statistics in a visual and engaging manner.

The launch of the Open Data Dashboards was in response to the demand for real-time healthcare data, which provides all key stakeholders in the healthcare sector with insights to improve access, quality and financial sustainability for planning and managing healthcare services. Users will also be able to compare selected statistics with international benchmarks on the same parameters.

In addition, the DoH launched the new ‘Malaffi’ or ‘my file’ in Arabic, the Health Information Exchange system to streamline healthcare connectivity for the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Malaffi is a new centralised platform that will connect more than 2,000 public and private healthcare providers in Abu Dhabi, catering to the healthcare needs of more than 3 million people in the emirate.

With Malaffi up and running, we are witnessing a revolution in the delivery of healthcare as it greatly reduces the duplication of healthcare services and also enables physicians to make faster, more efficient medical decisions. The end result is improved quality of care and patient outcomes.

Technology applications and apps are empowering the people to take a proactive approach towards their health and maintain their well-being rather than take action after falling ill. Once this is realised, the healthcare sector will witness a paradigm shift in disease prevention and control.