During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health ministry of a Middle East government became concerned that people who needed medical attention were staying away from hospitals and clinics, and wanted to find a way to use digital tools to continue to offer care remotely, both for initial diagnoses and on-going treatment.
PwC worked intensively with the ministry over a matter of weeks in April and May 2020 to establish what digital infrastructure was available and how delivery of care could be sustained in a virtual way. At the request of the client, the project was expanded, to establish a quantifiable and robust business case for a permanent virtual care delivery system. The aim was to build on substantial healthcare infrastructure improvements already being carried out in the country, and further expand the remit of virtual services as a viable “business as usual” healthcare delivery channel.
PwC was tasked to deliver a programme of work that included defining a countrywide virtual healthcare strategy, focusing on key initiatives such as virtual clinics, self-care tools, remote patient monitoring and tele-ICU, among others. As a first step, we conducted a benchmarking exercise to understand the key global trends, best practices and lessons learnt from other jurisdictions. Secondly, we wanted to understand how ready the country’s healthcare system was to provide digital access to clinicians and patients. To that end, we conducted a detailed assessment of the key providers’ digital maturity against a predefined digital blueprint reference developed as part of the programme.
The client also wanted to develop a strategy to drive technological innovation in delivering healthcare. To that end, our team conducted a detailed study of how artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to enhance care delivery as well as accelerate diagnosis of major diseases. The work resulted in identifying more than 90 evidence-based use cases with clear quantifiable benefits that could be implemented across the healthcare system.
Yet however good the technological innovation may be, nothing can be achieved without ensuring that healthcare workers successfully adopt transformational digital delivery channels. As a result, it was also important to understand the digital readiness of the workforce. This resulted in designing digital fitness programmes fully tailored to the needs of each group of staff so they could work successfully with the newly introduced digital health solutions.
Last but not least, our work was concluded by seeking to understand how to engage the country’s population and encourage people to use the new digital solutions. The programme designed population engagement campaigns and tools to drive awareness of how people can empower themselves to look after their own health by using the digital tools in a proactive way.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s overall healthcare system kick-started the need for a digital healthcare strategy, however the client and PwC Middle East have worked together for a number of years on other elements of the country’s healthcare transformation. This has involved performance and operational improvements as well as rethinking delivery, as the country has sought to modernise hospitals and clinics that, particularly in rural areas, were operating with limited technology.
PwC worked with health ministry officials on a very tight schedule to prove the case for implementing virtual care solutions by submitting fully quantifiable and evidence-based business cases to the central government, in order to secure financial support for the countrywide roll-out. Time was of the essence due to concern that people may not be able to access the medical help they needed during the lockdown period. PwC was able to turn around the first wave of business cases within eight weeks of the start of the programme.
Throughout the duration of the engagement, PwC’s team worked remotely with staff from the health ministry to put together all the components of the business cases and secure the necessary approvals across government bodies. These included entities responsible for areas such as health and non-health regulation, AI, cybersecurity, data privacy, demographic data and telecommunications.
To develop the business cases in the emerging field of virtual medicine at the speed required, we were able to draw on the breadth of the firm’s expertise, from specialists in digital architecture to health economists. We were also able to work with our global network to access case studies developed by PwC teams in Singapore, Australia and the US. In addition, we collaborated with private-sector partners in the country to launch pilot programmes, such as a virtual clinic that ran during the height of the pandemic.
Once the ministry secured central government approval, we worked with their teams to put together the request for proposal (RFP) to procure the required platforms from technology specialists and other private-sector partners.
The overall virtual care delivery platform will be rolled out across the country over 10 years, but with the aim of launching key initiatives in the short and medium term. This will greatly benefit patients and clinicians alike. With the strong realisation that success will be defined by widespread public adoption of virtual care, PwC and the client have worked with patients and patient advocacy groups throughout the project.
One of the first impacts of the work is the imminent launch of tele-ICU services in the country. These work around a centralised intensive care unit (ICU) management system that allows readings from life-saving machines in different locations to be assessed by remote ICU consultants and specialists. This will enable the country to increase its ICU bed capacity without having to recruit further specialist consultants in every hospital.
For our client, the bottom line is to be able to deliver care to patients anywhere, anytime.