Q&A: Achieving Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation and the Vision 2030

By | November 9, 2020

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has stated that it aims to achieve its Vision 2030 objectives through three main pillars: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation. The Vision is a strategic framework to reduce the nation’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors such as health, education, tourism and infrastructure. Innovation in digital health is a key part of the vision, with the Ministry of Health aiming for 70% of citizens to have unified digital records by 2020 and improvements in IT to significantly strengthen the quality of services offered by healthcare providers.

Taghreed Justinia, assistant professor, health informatics and regional director of IT services for Technology & Health Informatics at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences spoke to Healthcare IT News about how this framework plans to be implemented in the digital health space. Later this month, she will be moderating the Blockchain Workshop and the Driving Innovation – Disruption; Co-Innovation & New Business Models session at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Middle East Digital Health Conference & Exhibition. You can register your attendance and find out more here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HITN: Can you start by telling us about your experience of COVID-19 and how it’s transformed your work? 

Justinia: As a university specialised in health sciences, a lot of our students’ education relies on clinical skills and simulation. We found it challenging to deliver these skills remotely, so we were forced to find creative solutions without compromising the quality of teaching. A task force was setup from the highest level of the organisation to devise an actionable plan. The outcome was a delivery model that includes broadcasting the clinical simulation sessions live, while recording them to allow students to attend remotely, while a limited number of students were allowed to attend onsite within the social distancing restrictions. On top of this, a library of the sessions was accumulated and an educational platform was designed to allow for future access to these valuable resources.

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HITN: Can you tell us a bit about Saudi Arabia’s digital health transformation and the Saudi Vision 2030?

Justinia: Saudi Arabia adopted a National Transformation Program (NTP); also referred to as “Vision 2030”, as a roadmap for economic growth and national development. Vision 2030 outlined the Kingdom’s general objective to become a world-class model of a successful and pioneering nation. Saudi Arabia’s transformation strategy comprises 96 strategic objectives, governed by a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), that will be achieved through a number of initiatives co-developed and executed by different governmental entities alongside private and non-profit organisations. In order to build the capacity and capabilities required to achieve its ambitious goals, the NTP was launched on 6 June 2016 with Vision Realization Programs (VRP) across 24 government bodies operating in the economic and development sectors in Saudi Arabia in its first year. Its main aim was to develop governmental work and establish the needed infrastructure.

There are eight main themes of the Vision 2030 programme; one of which is “Transform Healthcare”. At the heart of the vision is the goal of completely transforming health care services in Saudi Arabia. The Transform Health Care theme includes easing access to health care services; improving value, quality, and efficiency of health care services; and promoting prevention against health threats. This theme has three strategic objectives, ten main KPI indicators, 24 KPI sub-indicators, and 70 initiatives. First, it seeks to achieve a vibrant society by restructuring the health sector to become a comprehensive and effective system.

Next, it intends to promote public health through the implementation of a new model of care that focuses on prevention and improving society’s health awareness. Last, it aims to improve access to health services through optimal coverage, equitable geographical distribution, as well as comprehensive and expanded e-Health services and digital solutions. Under the Transform Health Care theme, e-Health is identified as a key enabler of the health care transformation. Out of the 70 key initiatives under this theme, twelve initiatives are directly related to technology.

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HITN: Can you talk to us about how you came about writing your book chapter Transforming Healthcare with Technology in Saudi Arabia: From Vision to Reality?

Justinia: As a member of the scientific committee for the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Middle East Digital Conference, I attended many meetings with esteemed colleagues in the field. Through our many preparation talks, and inspired by the theme of the conference “Transforming Health and Care Together: From Vision to Reality”; I found a gap that could be filled by showcasing our digital health transformation journey in Saudi Arabia by way of a publication, and the opportunity came to contribute this book chapter in the Springer edited book titled: Nursing Informatics: An Interprofessional and Global Perspective.

HITN: Are there any nations you feel Saudi Arabia can learn from in this area?

Justinia: We can learn from Denmark, who pursued an ambitious digitisation strategy between 2011 and 2015 aimed  towards full digital delivery of government services. Designing the digitisation strategy to support the broader policy-making agenda helped to speed its execution and led to favourable results.

In Sweden, Vision for e-Health 2025 claims to be best in the world at using the opportunities offered by digitisation to make it easier to achieve equal health and welfare, and to develop and strengthen their own resources for increased independence and participation of society. Observing their transition can also be a valuable learning opportunity for any nation.

HITN: What are your hopes for national digital transformation?

Justinia: I hope that we can harness technology to ultimately deliver safer, better care for our nation, and that we can realise our vision in not only providing better care internally, but to become world-class leaders in medical research by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning for drug discovery and for curing disease. And when using the word “transformation”, I hope to truly see now business models of care, new collaborations, and a completely re-imagined healthcare system that keeps and builds upon what is already successful, while having the agility to be open to a new wave of technology-driven prospects.

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We already have the driving force of a national strategy behind us. What is left is to deliver what is steadily now in motion with the Saudi 2030 vision and other initiatives like the National Center for Artificial Intelligence, which is a government agency, established by Royal Order. These guiding forces hold great promise for a re-imagined digital health landscape in the Kingdom.

Thank you for your time. More information about the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Middle East Digital Health Conference & Exhibition taking place from 29 November – 2 December 2020 can be found here. 

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