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Healthcare IT

Saudi Arabian e-health to learn from others' mistakes

In order for Saudi Arabia’s e-healthcare plans to succeed, there is a need to understand where other nations have failed. So says Mohammed Alyemeni, Advisor to the Minister of Health and General Supervisor of ICT, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


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Saudi Arabia’s five-year project, which is the largest healthcare technology project ever attempted in the nation, is looking to incorporate elements addressing quality of care, cost containment, health system management and research needs.

Alyemeni commented: “Our ambitious plans will build on the pioneering e-health advancements from many developed countries, and enable the Kingdom to provide a new generation of healthcare services to meet the accelerating expectations of its residents.”

“Key to our success is to understand where other nations have failed and how we can avoid these costly errors,” he added.

With an annual population growth rate of 2.4 per cent—higher than the global average growth rate of 1.17 percent—Saudi Arabia is under pressure to bolster its healthcare services. In 2009, the country’s total healthcare expenditure amounted to $US16.7 billion, a 26.5 per cent increase from the 2008’s expenditure of $US13.2 billion.

In addition, the number of public and private hospitals in the country stands at more than 400 currently, and is projected to increase to around 500 by 2013.

The Saudi Arabia MOH’s website states their requirements for the Integrated and Comprehensive National Healthcare Project as:

  • Development of a national ICT strategy and detailed action plan that includes projects priorities, appropriate benchmarking, and monitoring
  • Design of the national e-health infrastructure required to support the e-health activities
  • Establishment of policies, standards, and methodologies to support the strategic plan and detailed action plans
  • Identification of areas of staffing and training needs and potential training methods to support the implementation of the detailed action plan
  • Design of organisational structure of the MOH Information Technology and Communications Department (ITC) and related policies, processes and performance criteria
  • It was unclear which countries Alyemeni would be referring to as examples of e-health flops, but Pascal Tse, Chief Information and Technology Officer of St Teresa’s Hospital in Hong Kong noted: “While many countries like America, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong are still working in an Electronic Health Record (EHR) direction, a full national eHR has yet to materialise.”

    “I believe the key take away for Saudi Arabia in studying other nations’ e-health plans is the concept of change management— the mentality of doctors and their expectation is complex and have to be handled carefully and efficiently. EHR plans have to consider the scope setting, user involvement, change control, and expectation management amongst others.”

    Research firm Gartner highlights the Netherlands’ National IT Institute for Healthcare’s Record Locator programme as a key case study of a failed e-health programme. The programme attempted to connected hospitals with pharmacies, but clinicians opposed the move over data security fears.

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    On 14 January 2011 Yousif Abdelfattah wrote:

    It is very challenging project i believe, it groups more than difficulty that includes, health practitioners practices, standards, e-health and cloud delivery model, nation and institution culture and of course people acceptance…. But the important aspect to success is planning (If you fail to plan you are planning to fail) and i believe that they have planned properly and can succeed by persistence and continuos learning and aligning….

    On 17 July 2011 Dr Dave Haniff wrote:

    I believe that information accessible from anywhere can only be a good thing for speed of access in order that the doctors know the medical history quickly. What has happened unfortunately in the UK is that consultancy firms have exploited the need. I think what is needed for any nation that is embarking on a project is to gain independent advice from an organisation in order to prevent a costly expenditure.

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