It’s not difficult in 2020 to find news articles, reports and commentary exploring the concept of “healthcare 5.0”. It’s a forward-looking term that, in line with the relentless shift to digital, holds a lot of promise. As the world comes to terms with life in (and now, hopefully, after) the first truly global pandemic of the digital age, we are all a little more comfortable with novel, innovative, technology-driven healthcare solutions. And, one such proponent is none other than the UAE’s Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

For Dr Rakesh M. Suri, CEO and chair of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, healthcare 5.0 and the innovations it brings with it, put us on the cusp of what he calls a “new era of healthcare”. And Abu Dhabi, with its considerable investments in healthcare infrastructure and services, is at the forefront of these developments.

Dr Rakesh Suri, CEO, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

“As we enter the third decade of the millennium, we’re starting to see rapid acceleration in certain areas in healthcare. This has been fast forwarded by the global pandemic and the need to do things differently. Some of the levers we’re now using include technologies such as wearables and connected sensors (both inside and outside of hospitals), artificial intelligence, analytics and learning algorithms. And blockchain, which is to say secure, integrated ledger technology, allows data and records to be transmitted from site to site seamlessly in a trackable way.”

Dr Suri is pleased he has been able to deploy many of these technologies at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. “There’s lots of change occurring and things are being done differently. You have to stand back and ask how this impacts healthcare. The opportunity to partner globally with Mubadala was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Things have come together beautifully here. This has been home for the last six years, to myself, my family and 6,000 caregivers at the hospital. It’s an opportunity to touch humanity in a way that’s never been done before. And to define the future of healthcare right here in the Middle East.”

Better connectivity in health

There is a neat symmetry with healthcare 5.0 moving up the agenda, just as the UAE launches its 5G broadband network, the first in the Arab region and fourth globally, according to the Global Connectivity Index. Dr Asma Al Mannaei, director of healthcare quality at the Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DoH), says she sees the two worlds connecting.

“Healthcare 5.0 is a solution that needs fifth generation communication as a fundamental network infrastructure to connect to medical devices. The Internet of Things (IoT) will generate data accessible to AI and will contribute to digital wellness and focus on not only the wellbeing and quality of life for patients, but for individuals around the world.”

As the regulator of the healthcare sector in Abu Dhabi, the DoH doesn’t focus solely on technology, but on all solutions that improve the quality of healthcare services and take patient experience to new heights. Dr Asma explains that in addition to enhanced patient experience, they are working to help improve access.

Dr Suri agrees that providing accessibility to patients anywhere, is a longstanding healthcare challenge that technology can have a huge impact on. “Access is the first and arguably the most vexing problem in healthcare. Whether it’s an inability to get to see a provider, a lack of insurance, geographic distance or economic disparities, the care needed by an individual at the right time in the right place, getting to see the right person – is an enduring problem.

“And this is what these technologies will address when directed towards the right use,” he says.

Dr Asma adds that Covid-19 has accelerated some of these developments. “When it comes to technology-enabled innovation and an increase in access to healthcare, the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us how to bring healthcare to patients’ homes with the same level of quality they would have in a hospital. Connectivity has been the main enabler, with IoT devices and mobile phone cameras helping providers access a patient’s home.”

More personalised medicines

In the aftermath of the Covid crisis there will also be a greater determination than ever to fully exploit the opportunities of technology to create more targeted therapies and tailored drug development.

“A major development is what can be summarised under ‘precision or personalised medicine’,” explains Dr Asma. “Using genetic or molecular profiling, therapies have started to become much more targeted and customised to individual patients. It is still in its infancy, but there has been huge progress.

“Genetic and molecular data, in combination with individual health data and AI, will help to gain insights nobody has had before. Apart from regulation and data protection, key challenges in the years ahead include improvements in structuring and unifying data resources, linking different data sources and enabling healthcare staff to understand and interpret data and ‘translate’ this into therapies.”

The ideal location to experiment

With its strong commitment to infrastructure investment and new ventures, as well as well-judged flexible regulatory environment, it’s no surprise that Abu Dhabi presents a wonderful opportunity for those seeking to present and trial new health technologies.

Dr Asma is proud of how well-equipped Abu Dhabi is, as a landing platform for innovators with its own health technology startup accelerator, HealthTech, in partnership with Plug and Play ADGM set in the tech ecosystem, Hub71. Across Abu Dhabi’s healthcare sector and beyond, key players truly work in sync to enable private sector innovation.

“HealthTech is a platform for open innovation in healthcare; a place for idea commercialisation and testing. It is a unique, open, vibrant co-working space of leading healthtech startups, determined to solve health issues. It is a place to help startups innovating in the healthcare system to realise their potential, which in turn will bring about a cultural change towards innovation within healthcare,” she explains. “We have created a dedicated team within the Hub71 startup ecosystem to support firms by advising on regulation and supporting on commercialisation of technologies once ready for patient use, while also working with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, Abu Dhabi Global Market, Hub71 and other partners to give access to funding and all other resources required.”

More positive outcomes

Healthcare and pharmaceuticals are two key areas that benefit hugely from this kind of innovative thinking, says Dr Suri. Healthcare 5.0 brings new solutions for age-old challenges, “Many of the technologies we are fast forwarding and ushering in within this new era of healthcare, address long-standing and vexing problems such as access to health, coordination of care, and patients’ experience of the healthcare system.”

But he also warns that technology is merely a tool that needs to be used properly, as “what we achieve with technology depends on how it is deployed. New technologies need to be utilised in a coordinated and creative fashion to deliver on a vision in an organisation and a healthcare system.”