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Big data: A game-changer for the healthcare sector in the UAE?
Posted on Feb 10, 2017 by Jessica Lindeman
By looking at current medical trends in the UAE, this article examines the future implications of big data in the region’s healthcare sector.
With the healthcare sector in the UAE expected to grow from USD $12.1 billion in 2015 to $19.5 billion in 2020, indicating an average annual growth of 12.7%, the sheer volume of data generated during this period presents a myriad of opportunities for developing and transforming the market.
The presence of big data provides numerous revolutionary implications for the sector, as it presents the unique ability to analyze large data sets to predict future trends, especially when it is used efficiently. For example, research by McKinsey & Company predicted that the efficient use of big data could lead to the generation of more than USD $300 billion in value in the US healthcare sector alone.
Realizing the true potential of big data analysis in transforming the healthcare industry is an especially important consideration in the UAE region, where demand for healthcare is growing rapidly due to a number of reasons, e.g. increasingly sedentary lifestyles in the region has led to an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes.
The importance of big data in the healthcare sector
According to survey findings from research cited in an article by Arab Health Magazine, an increasing number of business leaders in the UAE are recognizing the importance of utilizing digital competencies in enhancing the standard and quality of healthcare.
Compared to the global average of 52%, 78% of C-level executives in the UAE believe that the region is undergoing an industrial revolution era underpinned by the integration of hardware and software. 42% of the survey’s UAE respondents believe that disruptive technologies such as big data integration will be the biggest driver in improving the quality of care.
Addressing healthcare challenges experienced by the UAE region
One of the primary challenges faced by the healthcare sector in the UAE is the rising cost of care, which is mainly due to health care overutilization driven by the high population growth rate, and a mounting tide of chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes) caused by increasingly sedentary lifestyle patterns and an ageing population. Finding ways to effectively analyze big data could drive transformational changes by detecting patterns associated with lifestyle-related diseases. In the section below, we look at how big data has already started addressing this issue.
The big data implications of mandatory health insurance in Dubai
A number of regions within not only the UAE but also the Middle East have undergone, or are in the process of, implementing mandatory health insurance, which presents numerous opportunities to analyze the big volumes of health data generated from claims. When looking at Dubai’s mandatory health insurance scheme, first rolled out in 2014, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) introduced a standardized insurance coding system to increase efficiency in processing claims. This represented a revolutionary improvement from only just a few years ago, when healthcare facilities would fax claims to insurers, who would then need to code them manually.
Painting a clearer picture on diabetes in Dubai
By integrating an electronic infrastructure into the healthcare system, the sheer volume of data generated presents a range of analytical opportunities to the UAE’s second largest emirate, and is already on its way to make significant changes to healthcare. For example, the data collected from claims is now being used to define national diabetes guidelines. After the mandatory health insurance law was introduced in Dubai, the DHA has mandated that for all diabetic patients’ claims to be complete, the patient will need to include their blood sugar levels and HbA1c (glycated haemoglobin) levels.
This paints a clearer picture on the state of the diabetic population in Dubai. Now, the DHA knows that 60% of diabetic patients have HbA1c levels below the target level of 7, and 10% of people have levels above 9.5, meaning they’ve reached a very unhealthy level. This data is very valuable to healthcare decision makers, especially when considering that diabetic patients with above 9.5 HbA1c levels cost the healthcare system 25 times more than patients with healthier levels of HbA1c. The way big data has enabled the generation of valuable data on diabetes has now paved its way for the need to address other chronic conditions in the nation, such as obesity.
What to expect for the future of health insurance
Especially with the introduction of mandatory health insurance in several emirates, research from our global partner Pacific Prime’s International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI) inflation report concluded that the big data collected from a greater number of people insured presents numerous actuarial opportunities on how exactly the population is accessing healthcare.
Currently in Dubai, insurers are pricing premiums with little historical data. As the analysis of big data becomes increasingly sophisticated, this will enable insurers to paint a clearer picture on the state of healthcare in the region, and as such, will allow the insurers to more accurately predict the chance of claims being submitted and the amount they will need to pay out. This in turn can be leveraged to better control inflation which for the end-client means potentially more stable premium increases and ultimately more effective coverage.
While the benefits of big data in the health and insurance industries are still a ways off from end-customers realizing them, there is little doubt that it will play a large role in the future of insurance, especially in high utilization markets like Dubai.