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January 3, 2017

Healthcare IoT applications gaining momentum in MEA region

The internet of things (IoT) is rapidly gaining momentum within the healthcare industry of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. According to IDC Health Insights, there has been a steady rise in IoT initiatives over recent years, and in some usage scenarios, IoT services are maturing rapidly toward mainstream deployment.

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IDC therefore projects IoT spending by healthcare providers across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) to surpass $500 million in 2016, and increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.7% over the 2016?2020 period. The GCC will be one of the fastest-growing regions within MEA, with IDC Health Insights forecasting that IoT spending in the GCC will grow by more than 20% per annum in some segments of the healthcare industry.

The current epidemiological trends and systemic gaps in GCC healthcare markets provide good reasons for trying IoT in virtually any area of healthcare. Yet, hospitals are currently ahead of the curve in terms of IoT adoption. According to a recent survey conducted by IDC Health Insights in hospitals across Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as many as 50% of them are currently using some type of IoT-based solutions.

Tracking & monitoring

Mirroring the global trends in healthcare and other industries, IoT-enabled solutions are emerging fastest in the tracking and monitoring of people and assets (patients, staff, and various medical "things"), using technologies such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) and barcoding. However, the uses are expected to broaden in terms of supporting care delivery, especially in the areas of monitoring hospitalized patients, and "smart" systems for pharmacy management.

Although still at a nascent stage, telehealth systems and systems for remote patient monitoring are also gaining more attention, particularly in Saudi Arabia where the gaps in healthcare coverage are more pronounced due to the country’s large size and its lack of medical facilities and specialists in remote areas.

Personal wellness

In the consumer segment, personal wellness represents one area with great IoT deployment potential. The GCC personal wellness wearables market, according to the latest projections by IDC Health Insights, will expand at a CAGR of about 22% over the coming years.

"While health, wellness, and fitness wearables have become a fashionable way of supporting healthy lifestyles among consumers, healthcare payers and providers are striving to benefit from the possible cost savings arising from their potential preventive value," says Nino Giguashvili, a senior research analyst IDC Health Insights. "Health authorities across the GCC are increasingly promoting their use as a method of encouraging healthy lifestyles. For example, the Dubai Health Authority has initiated an incentive program aimed at rewarding residents for healthy behavior that is based on data recorded by fitness trackers."

From why to how

According to IDC Health Insights, IoT has already passed the "why" stage and moved onto the "how" stage in many of the areas of possible use in GCC markets. "Technology transformation will sit at the heart of the healthcare developments being undertaken in the GCC," says Giguashvili. "The tip of the iceberg is already visible, and the growing convergence of mobile, big data, social media, and IoT will play an unparalleled role in the digital transformation of GCC healthcare systems, accelerating innovation and enabling the region-wide drive toward gold-standard healthcare models as envisioned by the long-term development plans set by GCC governments."

However, the problems with privacy and security, as well as a number of other factors – such as issues with data quality, the costs of implementation, and a lack of interoperability standards – are inhibiting IoT implementations. A newly published report by IDC Health Insights discusses the current adoption trends and future prospects for IoT-based technologies within the healthcare systems of GCC member states.

The study is based on IDC’s ongoing qualitative and quantitative research in the region, and utilizes the results of a recent survey of IT trends conducted among hospitals in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

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