HIMSS21 Middle East: Capitalising on digitalisation for a more resilient future

Informatics and data-driven technology were crucial in helping global health systems manage the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis; a pivotal moment in history that propelled digitalisation across the health system.


Transforming health systems to become more digitally-focused – or “digital first” – can help healthcare providers circumvent future crises, and combat the current challenges in the sector.

An expert panel discussed the challenges, and more, involved in transformation during ‘Accelerating Digital Transformation and Driving Innovations‘, the opening keynote that took place on Day One of the HIMSS21 Middle East conference on 21 November.

The keynote featured His Excellency Fahad Al-Jalajel, Saudi Minister of Health; Sarah Alradhi, Health Information Officer at the National Health Information Center (KSA); Waleed AlBahli, General Director of NHIC (KSA); Dr Ahmed Mandil, Coordinator of Research and Innovation Science, and Information and Dissemination at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (Egypt); Dr Nahar Muzaki Al-Azemi, Secretary-General of the Saudi Health Council; and Dr Ayman Abdo, General Secretary of the Saudi Commission for Healthcare Specialities. The panel also comprised Prof Amr Jamal, Chair of the National Health Informatics Scientific Board at the Saudi Commission of Health Specialities (SCFHS), and Chairman and Professor of Family Medicine and Clinical Informatics at King Saud University (KSU); and Hal Wolf, President and CEO of HIMSS (US).


AlBahli spoke about the importance of utilising technology to overcome health care challenges.

“Digital health and the solutions it offers have been gaining momentum because they enable us to overcome the challenges in the health sector in the Kingdom and in other countries around the world,” he said. “One prominent challenge is financial sustainability due to the rising costs of health services, shortage of healthcare workers, healthcare burden with increased chronic diseases rates, and difficulty accessing health services.”

However, he went on to say that these challenges are the starting point for reshaping and developing global health systems through implementing ambitious and innovative plans and with the use of modern technology to provide digital health services and keep pace with successful global practices.

Mandil discussed the overriding question – why digital health? 

“Digitalisation enables better, faster connectivity and access to health information, more efficient health information systems, better access, delivery and quality of health care systems.”

It also enables cost-effective systems and services, access to remote, rural, and migrant settings, and enables better health indicators, ultimately saving lives, he said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is probably the first time in human history in which innovative digital technologies are being used on an unprecedented scale to keep people connected, safe and productive while being physically and socially apart.”

This included COVID-19 surveillance, health prevention, diagnostics, therapeutics, and much more, with digitalisation across telemedicine, telehealth and mobile applications. He added that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been leading the response through measures such as contact tracing apps and home delivery of medicines. He also pointed out that the WHO is encouraging further use of digitalisation across the region and building national capacities to drive forward digital health and people-centred health systems.

Jamal presented a scientific overview of the journey of HIMSS in Saudi Arabia, and discussed the importance of international feedback and engagement in accelerating digital transformation.

HIMSS President and CEO, Wolf congratulated the countries in the Middle East for their COVID-19 response, while highlighting the importance of reforming the global health ecosystem through the power of information and technology.

Over the past 18 months, digital health has been deployed extensively and remarkably across the region to support the management of the pandemic and reflects a global transformation to digitalisation to better support patients’ needs, he said.

“The complex challenges of the modern health ecosystem are driving us to discover and adopt new solutions,” he pointed out. “We need to unleash the power of information and technology to transform health.”

Muzaki Al-Azemi spoke of the importance of global coordination and collaboration, and the exchange of knowledge, experiences, and expertise to support the development of healthcare systems, and leveraging data and technology for better health outcomes.

The pandemic, he said, led to an era that saw health systems witness myriad strategic transformations, with digitalisation becoming a tool to help health systems mature.

H.E. Al-Jalajel officially opened the conference by stressing that the Kingdom optimised the use of digital technology during the pandemic, and incorporated this into its Health Sector Transformation Program. Under Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, he added, “digital health is considered a pivotal partner for transformation in the health sector”.

He continued: “During COVID-19, digital health technologies were one of the most important ways to deal with the pandemic,” he said, adding that health information technology is an influential factor in raising performance efficiency, improving the quality of services, and optimising the use of resources.

Register now to listen to the session ‘on demand’ at HIMSS21 Middle East.

Marcy Willis

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