Saudi Arabia seeks global collaboration to develop digital maturity

Saudi Arabia’s Digital Transformation Advisor in the Ministry of Health has called for increased global collaboration to improve digital maturity in the Middle East. Dr Ahmed Balkhair was addressing the HIMSS Middle East Digital Health Conference.
By Rosy Matheson
08:53 AM

Top row - left to right: Dr Don Rucker, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), HHS Office of the Secretary, US, Tim Kelsey, SVP - Analytics, HIMSS, Australia and Dr Ahmed Balkhair, Saudi Arabia’s Digital Transformation Advisor, Ministry of Health. 

Bottom row: Dr Anne Snowdon, Director of Clinical Research - Analytics, HIMSS, Canada.

Digital maturity has become a priority for health systems across the world since the arrival of COVID-19 because it can improve clinical and financial outcomes and build resilience in times of crisis.   

Dr Balkhair, who is responsible for delivering a digital transformation blueprint under the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision, said: “All the countries have the same journey of building whatever standards, whatever policies, are needed to achieve the targets of a health record, to have a national health observatory, also analytics and telemedicine services, with collaboration across facilities”.

He was on an expert panel with Dr Anne Snowdon, Scientific Director and CEO at SCAN Health, Chair and Professor at the World Health Innovation Network, and Director of Clinical Research - Analytics at HIMSS, Canada and Dr Don Rucker, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), HHS Office of the Secretary, US.


“It is increasingly obvious that without digital transformation, health systems won’t have the resilience or the ability to deliver the benefits of precision medicine,” said Tim Kelsey, Senior Vice President - Analytics, HIMSS, Australia, and the moderator of the Digital Maturity: Improving Outcomes, Building Resilience and Promoting Interoperability session.

Dr Snowdon said the pandemic had emphasised the need for greater connectivity: “Imagine having the interoperability and data and outcomes flowing from Italy, Spain, England to North America or to Korea and Taiwan as the pandemic unfolded. It’s about creating that global learning environment that achieves value for all health systems, learning from each other from the contexts, from the vast variation and connecting much more directly with global citizens.”

To achieve greater digital maturity, Dr Balkhair said it was important for Saudi Arabia to try to learn from the experiences of other countries and to collaborate with HIMSS to learn from their experience in evaluation: “Every country is having a lot of development related to algorithms they are building. How can we re-use? Can we share, for example, the modelling that we need to have within our systems?

The Global Digital Health Partnership and the collaboration is a good opportunity for us to share, collaborate, exchange successful stories and to have a real connected world in serving healthcare across borders worldwide.”

Dr Rucker, who is the leader of the Interoperability Work Stream for the Global Digital Health Partnership, said the organisation was unique in serving as a policy making tool and was aware of the importance of sharing its insights into digital maturity: “It’s a team sport. We’re in different countries but we’re aware of what the approaches of different countries are and can drive them to common standards, common approaches, learn from them, so we’re not re-inventing the wheel. 

On a more practical level these issues come up in all the ministries. [People ask] how are you doing this or that? For example, in the US right now, we’re trying to figure out how to use data to allocate vaccines to high risk patients: a classic analytics problem and it’s helpful to have broader perspectives on all of these questions.”

According to Dr Snowdon, it is possible to work out what digital transformation looks like and what can be achieved by using the Digital Health Indicator (DHI). This tool measures progress towards achieving a digital health ecosystem that connects clinicians and providers with people, enabling them to manage their health and well-being, using digital tools in a secure and private environment, whenever, and wherever, care is needed.

Dr Snowdon said: “It identifies where you are starting from as a health system, in driving and strengthening your digital capacity and what your options are, in terms of the variety of models that can help you build on your digital assets of today, and drive forward, and achieve, a very robust and high-performing digital health ecosystem of tomorrow.”

You can find out more about the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Middle East Digital Health Conference and learn more about the latest news and developments from the event here.

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