How IoT, 5G, and digitalisation are transforming the healthcare industry in Saudi Arabia and across the globe

Almost two years since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the healthcare industry has taken significant steps into the digital realm, with telemedicine and wearables now more commonplace than ever.

In Saudi Arabia, IoT and 5G are transforming the healthcare sector, enabling monitoring of patients in remote areas and enabling critical early interventions, explained AlFhadah AlBaiz, director of sector development at the kingdom’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Speaking to Arabian Business ahead of the Smart Healthcare – Digital Transformation & Cyber Security Summit KSA, taking place in Marriott Riyadh on March 14-15, AlBaiz also discussed Saudi’s virtual hospital platform Sehha and the future tech trends in healthcare.

Can you tell us some of the ways in which IoT and 5G are transforming the healthcare sector in Saudi Arabia?

Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and 5G are transforming the healthcare industry. With smarter diagnosis tools, doctors are now able to better diagnose and treat patients and prescribe and personalise medication.

These are emerging technologies that will have a huge impact on the healthcare industry. Both will enable remote monitoring of patients who are in rural areas and reduce travel time. This being a basic necessity, with the support of the Ministry of Health, virtual hospitals and the use of advanced technologies are targeted to improve the patients’ experience in the kingdom.

IoMT and 5G are serving healthcare providers to improve their efficiency and reduce costs. For example, IoMT is used to monitor patients who are at high risk of developing chronic conditions. This enables the patient’s doctor to intervene early on and prevent them from developing these conditions in the first place.

Telecom operators are attractive partners in the Saudi healthcare ecosystem. With the introduction of 5G connectivity, 5G is capable of achieving 100 times faster speeds than 4G, while also handling massively more connections needed for IoMT. The use of emerging technologies is only growing: the amount of data on networks is projected to only increase more, with a significant impact on how we serve the healthcare industry.

The virtual hospital Sehha was also launched as a qualitative achievement with the support of the wise leadership for everything that helps raise the level of health services provided and is linked to more than 130 hospitals around the kingdom, representing a great addition to redefining digital health.

The virtual hospital aims to use the latest treatment technologies, expand the employment and investment of medical robots to save time and effort and relieve the hardships of travel and transportation, and for critical cases that require specialised, accurate and quick consultations while facilitating the provision of health services at home. The virtual hospital contributes to transferring expertise to newly graduated doctors to raise efficiency and enhance medical services.

AlFhadah AlBaiz, director of sector development at the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

The most popular trend is wireless technology or “wearables.” These devices monitor the health data of a patient, such as heart rate and sleep patterns.

Another technology worth mentioning is telemedicine, which allows medical professionals to connect with patients through the use of video conferencing, as physicians can diagnose concerns remotely, using a device, while with the patent is sitting in the comfort of their home, and then ask the patient follow up in person if necessary.

There are several trends to watch out for in the medical environment while 5G will enable new and improved use cases; such as augmented reality surgery, robotic-assisted surgery, connected ambulances, after-surgery care and remote patient monitoring.

IoT will become the biggest source of data on the planet, which will be a major factor in driving innovation in the healthcare industry. IoT and machine learning will transform the way patients are being diagnosed and treated in hospitals, allowing the realisation of huge potential benefits.

What are some of the challenges that hospitals and healthcare providers in the region face in using 5G and what are the solutions?

5G is key to our digital future. However, it is impossible to have a 5G ecosystem without devices and applications. One of the main reasons behind the lack of 5G adoption is due to the lack of demand in the market. While there are many more devices in development, there still needs to be a way to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

The good news is that manufacturers are beginning to get on board with this latest generation of technology and some companies have begun releasing their first wave of 5G-enabled devices.

The standardisation of 5G devices is an additional challenge. The major manufacturers have been working on this for years to ensure that a wide variety of different devices are ready, ensuring there will be a mix of familiar and unfamiliar devices available to meet the medical industry’s demand.

Internet of Medical things (IoMT) and 5G are transforming the healthcare industry.

What is the value of a summit like Smart Healthcare Digital Transformation and Cyber Security in Saudi Arabia?

The future of healthcare is digital. In fact, it is inevitable. The Smart Healthcare Digital Transformation Summit will give a glimpse into what the future holds for the healthcare industry by giving access to the top minds and what experts discuss about the future of healthcare.

With speakers from across the nation, this summit provides a collaborative environment for the industry’s movers and shakers to come together and share their insights about what is happening in digital healthcare.

Healthcare is changing at an exponential rate, and we must keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening. The Smart Healthcare Digital Transformation Summit is a great starting place for that!

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Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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