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GITEX 2017: Technology innovation empowers Middle East healthcare sector

Technology is empowering doctors and patients, accelerating innovation and pushing the healthcare industry to the point of massive change, according to digital health expert John Nosta, who is set to speak at GITEX 2017 in Dubai

The healthcare industry in the Middle East is at inflection point of transformation driven by technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, nano technology and wearable devices.

These advances in IT are combining to accelerate innovation, medical outcomes and drive down costs.

The advancement in healthcare technologies in past 10 years in the Middle East, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Dubai have been “amazing”, according to digital health philosopher John Nosta.

“The region has witnessed an accelerated development plan and implementation that sets the standard for the world, not just in healthcare, but various industry verticals,” he said.

He praised the region’s initiative to help have technological changes implemented quickly and in a well-coordinated fashion.

“When I met Aisha Bin Bishr, director general at Smart Dubai Office, she defined these technological changes with one word – and that word was ‘happy’. The ultimate manifestation of technological change is less about the technology and more about human realisation, empowerment and happiness,” he said.

Nosta said at GITEX Technology Week’s health vertical conferences, he will be talking about how these fundamental changes are coming to life and how there are interesting parallels between advances in technology, such as the driverless car, and changes in technology around health.

“One of the most important takeaways is that we are at a fundamental inflection point in human history. Technology is changing the way we manage disease and manage health and wellness,” he said.

Nosta said there is a tremendous amount of empowerment in healthcare technology. In some instances, that empowerment is on the side of the clinician and physician by using new techniques, tools and treatments.

It is also be on the side of the patient, who now has the ability to understand, track and manage their wellness and data, all empowered through technology.

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When people talk about healthcare, the issue of cost always comes up and now, with new technologies such as AI and robotic surgery, many are concerned this advancement is going to make healthcare more expensive.

Nosta agreed with the view that healthcare will become more costly with each improvement, and said expensive innovation is the nature of almost any model and innovation never starts off inexpensive.

Nosta said large pharmaceutical companies with a research and development budget can take risks in the health sector, but the model is such that innovation and access to the general public will drive costs down

“What we will see is the democratisation of health, where people become more active and that will drive costs down. I think this innovation will come at a surprising rate, where we no longer need an expensive tool to do an electrocardiogram [EKG]. We can use a simple device that can track our heart rate for a potential life threatening arrhythmia,” he said.

“The good news is that the rate of tech innovation in healthcare is accelerating, so we should see the rate of cost decline accelerate at a similar rate,” he added.

Technologies such as VR, AI, wearables and 360-degree videos have already made an impact in the healthcare industry.

Having worked with the Google Health Advisory Board, Nosta said a big piece of Google’s research and development budget is dedicated to health.

“That is an indication of what Google thinks about the importance of health,” he said. “Google has been looking at a variety of areas, [and the] development of more sophisticated wearables can have a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the data that our bodies generate.”

At GITEX, Nosta is looking forward to and is interested in the nature of healthcare innovation in the region. “Because what I have found, and what I have studied extensively, is that the process of innovation is as important as the innovation itself. We often find the great ideas are sometimes not fostered and brought to life,” he said.

Nosta added that it is important the healthcare sector accepts failures, and it has to look to embrace those failures as points along the path to success.

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