Jan 25 2011
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Driving Healthcare Success through Process Innovation
Brief: The healthcare industry has witnessed phenomenal growth in the past several years with clear momentum being projected for the future. As these systems grow bigger, refining administrative processes through innovative tech solutions is a top priority. Zebra Technologies is one of the global leaders in helping healthcare companies identify, locate and track assets with specialty printing and identification solutions. Wael Hasan, Territory Manager Middle East at Zebra Technologies, shares his insights on how local healthcare companies can use technology to create safer, more cost-effective services through 'process innovation'.
From admission to discharge, the healthcare industry is a patchwork of micro-processes. While talented doctors and warm smiles are a crucial part of that patient journey, what many visitors remember most about their experience is the efficiency in which they were served. Were there long waiting times? Was the medication ready for pickup upon arrival? Process innovation or the reworking of daily processes to improve efficiency and save costs is at the core of successful healthcare service, and it is this side of the business where technology becomes most visible.
When it comes to medical records and patient identification, the paper-heavy and immobile systems of old are becoming exponentially more difficult to manage. Patient histories, especially those dating back to the pre-computer era, are incredibly time consuming to review if not recorded digitally. Likewise, paper record-keeping and telephone messages are clearly not enough to ensure timely service. In areas like medication administration, additional time and costs are incurred as some facilities still rely on centralized operations which can only be done from the pharmacy floor.
"Many countries in the Middle East today are starting to recognize the concept of process innovation as a valuable tool in offering world-class healthcare to their populations," believes Hasan. "Governments and private companies have a mutual stake in that development, especially as the industry witnesses the phenomenal growth rates seen in the last few years."
Bar-code systems, mobile printers, radio frequency identification (RFID) scanners; all products that when applied correctly make processes faster and, ultimately, cheaper. Hasan believes that there are two particular benefits for healthcare organizations in the MENA region: using technology to save time (i.e. costs) in administration, and minimizing errors in patient treatment.
Bar-coded patient identification systems, for instance, are quickly becoming a standard in GCC healthcare facilities. While statistics are not widely available in the region, a report done by the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) investigating bar-code administration processes concluded that they can reduce medication errors by 50 percent if fully implemented.
"Not only do these systems reduce errors and the associated costs of correcting them, but moving to an automated data-entry system allows for many administration tasks to be speeded up and simplified, such as verifying patient's medical history," notes Hasan.
"Having the ability to read and interpret data on-the-go is equally important. Today's handheld mobile computer and printer networks are enabling that flexibility as healthcare practitioners redesign many of their daily processes. Something as simple as printing a patient's medication label at their bedside, we have found, greatly reduces the risk of error and radically boosts staff efficiency," says Hasan.
Another area where companies look at process innovation is in wristband technologies. The topic of many governmental reform acts in places like the UK, wristbands today can carry everything from digital images to elaborate text. A patient's blood type, allergies and primary physician can all be read instantaneously through mobile media scanners.
"While large pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer have already started implementing these types of bar code solutions, today it's regions like the Middle East that we see as the fastest-growing markets for this product demand," adds Hasan.
The global market for RFID products and services in the pharmaceutical industry alone has been projected to grow nearly eight-fold between 2008 and 2015, reaching some $884 million annually. While internationally there has been a relatively slow adoption of such technologies in healthcare, that trend is mostly driven by apprehension over high investments in older facilities.
The fact that robust plans exist for new healthcare systems in the Middle East--and that financiers have the resources to invest in pioneer technologies--signals a positive outlook for patients across the region.
 The World Bank estimates total healthcare spending in GCC countries will reach US$60 billion in 2025, a nearly five-fold increase from 2009 expenditures.
 Hospitals and Health Networks, April 2004.
 GBI Research, "RFID in Pharmaceuticals: Supply Chain Security Concerns Provide Impetus for RFID Adoption." (http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/7708/1/628/)
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