Ali Ahmar (Middle East) - Key to the Growth and Modernization of the Healthcare Sector

Updated network technologies are vital for running modern health care centres. Ali Ahman, Regional Sales Manager at Brocade, discusses what ICT teams need to do to make the transition smooth and cost effective.


The GCC healthcare sector is forecast to triple in worth over the next decade from $18bn currently, to $55bn by 2020 according to a recent report by Kuwait Finance House Research Limited. An estimated $10bn worth of healthcare projects are planned or underway in the GCC. More than 200 new hospitals have been announced or are under construction, with a cumulative capacity of up to 27,009 beds, most of which are due to be delivered in 2015.

The majority of hospital networks have typically evolved over time and the challenges of deploying modern applications and systems over older networking equipment and obsolete technologies are starting to show. When medical staff arefocused on the effective delivery of patient care, the availability and integrity of information can literally be a matter of life or death. 

For the ICT teams, the pressure is immense to provide technologies that help medical staff more mobile, reduce waiting times and improve productivity, while at the same time keeping operational costs down. Network upgrades that support next-generation wired and wireless healthcare applications will be needed. It's equally clear that the ICT teams will be provided with the resources to design an optimal data network from scratch, so the priority will be tactical enhancements, supporting selective deployments that make a real difference to medical outcomes. 

So what does today's medical staff require from networking technologies and from the ICT staff who design, implement and support them?

For a start, there's the widespread migration from paper- and film-based to electronic medical records. It's no secret that paper is a major factor in out-of-control costs, inefficiencies and errors in the healthcare sector. The transition to electronic medical records not only places an additional burden on existing data networks, but also increases staff reliance on them. For that reason, medical staff need a network that can guarantee continuous high performance, unhampered by the slowdowns in data transmission that result from low bandwidth.

At the same time, high performance needs to be matched with high security. Confidential patient information is among the most sensitive data that exists, and, in most jurisdictions, is subject to a host of legislative and regulatory controls.

While performance and security are paramount, new trends in medical practice are fuelling demand for better networks, too. Medical staff needs to be able to work seamlessly across both wired and wireless networks, equipped with mobile PC carts, tablet PCs, PDAs and other wireless equipment, giving them ready access to patient information and the ability to diagnose and treat patients more quickly, regardless of their physical location in the hospital complex.

At the same time, they're looking to newer applications, such as wireless patient monitoring, to relieve them of the burden of conducting regular patient observations and to alert them immediately if a patient's condition deteriorates.

Increased mobility of both staff and patients, however, demands better levels of wireless network coverage and performance - as do less critical, but still-valuable services such as medical equipment tracking using Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags, and the provision of Internet access to long-term patients and hospital visitors.  

For modern healthcare professionals, better network-enabled communication and collaboration is a must-have, too. Web conferencing and patient video monitoring promise great advances in patient care and cost benefits, but these applications don't work where audio and visual quality is compromised by network problems.

Finally, medical staff are looking to make the move from physical, film-based X-rays and scans to electronic alternatives based on technologies such as PACS and DICOM. These place their own burden on hospital networks. Medical imaging technologies are consuming available network resources at an unprecedented rate.

It's no wonder then that Information Technology spending in the UAE is expected to grow from around $ 3.1 billion in 2008 to nearly $4.7 billion by 2013 according to a report in 2009 by Business Monitor International, and this is indicative of the trend in the Middle East as a whole. The modernisation of healthcare systems is seen as a hub for growth and a condition for long-term sustainability. IT investments are a fundamental part of these modernisation strategies.

Ali Ahmar is the Regional Sales Manager of Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan for Brocade. Ahmar is based at Brocade's regional headquarters in Dubai, UAE and has overall sales & operations responsibility for the region.