Saudi Arabia’s digital healthcare landscape post-COVID-19

We explore the role of digital health in Saudi Arabia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and discover how the learnings can be used to formulate the Kingdom’s strategic plans for the digitalisation of the healthcare system in the future.

By GHE Team | May 5, 2020

Digital reinvention in healthcare involves fundamental reimaging of the way a healthcare organisation engages with patients and other stakeholders to realise patients ambitions and aspirations.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is recognised globally as having deployed a strategy to manage the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak as an example of good practice. Based on its experience with other coronaviruses such as MERS-CoV, in early January, the Kingdom quickly developed country-specific guidelines based on WHO guidelines to deal with the new virus.

The country’s Ministry of Health (MoH) has continued to scale up surveillance, and testing measures with all suspected cases are investigated, particularly at points of entry, and confirmed cases were immediately isolated and treated. The MOH designated 25 hospitals, amounting to 80,000 hospital beds - 2,200 of which are to be used for the isolation of suspected/quarantined cases - and 8,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds for the treatment of COVID-19 cases.

Containing the COVID-19 infection rate and keeping mortality low has largely been attributed to the role of digital health in the MoH’s response strategy. This involved setting up a number of technology applications and data domains to respond to the COVID-19 Command & Contact Centre requirements. It also included the development of dashboards and connecting data through the National Health Observatory (NHO), as well as conducting awareness and education campaigns through the telecommunications network. The deployment of digital applications such as mobile health applications, telehealth, virtual clinics and robotics to support that COVID-19 response has proved particularly successful with 2,438 suspected cases (as of 18 April) of COVID-19 identified through mobile health applications alone.

As COVID-19 is a pandemic of the new age and has taken a matter of weeks to get around the world, the digital health solutions employed by Saudi Arabia during the outbreak are now being used to revolutionise the healthcare system and industry, providing opportunities to transform the delivery of healthcare and enhance patient care beyond the outbreak.

According to Dr Amr Jamal, who is an associate professor and family physician at King Saud University Medical City, and a board member and founding member of the Saudi Association for Health Informatics; since the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in the country, the digital transformation of the healthcare system that has taken place in Saudi Arabia has been tremendous, equalling and surpassing what the country has tried to achieve in the last four to five years on its journey to digital transformation.

So how then is this new wave of digital health transformation supporting health system capacity, including the workforce, the supplies and the infrastructure, and population behaviour in the Kingdom? As Dr Jamal explains, the aim is to increase the health system capacity in the country to cope with as many cases of COVID-19 as it can.

“Through the healthcare infrastructure, we can utilise digital health to quantify, monitor, predict and reallocate the resources that we currently have. When it comes to supply, digital health can equal efficient and equitable production and distribution on both a national and an organisational level. We also need to protect the healthcare workforce and their families, and build their capacity and online training in terms of knowing how to deal with the COVID-19 caseload.”

The MoH is providing pro-active measures for the country’s vulnerable population through telemedicine, virtual, phone and text message clinics, as well as online medication delivery. Earlier this year, the MoH expanded its telemedicine regulations with the launch of the new e-health “Seha” App that provides ease of medical consultation with doctors by connecting the patients for virtual face-to-face consultations across the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, all citizens have access to the MoH mobile health applications even if they do not have a data contract with their telecommunications provider.

The implementation of electronic medical records (EMR) in all hospitals across Saudi Arabia is one of the core components of the healthcare strategy, in line with Vision 2030. “During the outbreak, both patients and physicians can access EMRs from their homes and home healthcare has also allowed us to provide vaccinations to vulnerable patients and critical follow-up care to chronic disease patients in their own homes,” explains Dr Jamal, who is also the conference chair for the upcoming Digital Health and Innovation Conference at Global Health 2020 in Riyadh.

According to a recent report by KPMG Al Fozan & Partners, Saudi Arabia’s health system will continue to benefit tremendously from better out-of-hospital and community-based services, as the Kingdom adopts Integrated Care Systems (ICS) and the MoH continues to implement its e-health strategy that seeks to connect all levels of care digitally. This represents a major investment in healthcare technology, as well as significant clinical, operational and cultural challenges.

Digital tools to enhance the delivery of ICS in KSA

Source: KPMG

In addition to the rapid onset of digital healthcare transformation, the Kingdom is also experiencing a monumental shift in the way that the healthcare industry is working with partner industries, from both the public and private sectors, to provide innovative technologies and solutions to protect the healthcare infrastructure of the country. The hope is that all Government entities and private organisations across the globe will continue to work together to design a better, more digitally connected way to cope with the pandemics of the future. However, Dr Jamal cautions that in order to balance the use of technology for the future, we need to put the safety of patients and healthcare workers first. “We also need to remember that social distancing measures do not mean that we can stop the care of non-COVID-19 patients,” Dr Jamal adds.


“Takasi” Platform

Takasi provides a single system to be the only source of truth for COVID-19 suspected and confirmed cases in the Kingdom.

Rest Assured “Tataman” Service

The Rest Assured​ “Tataman”​ App is designed to provide protection and health care for citizens and residents referred to domestic isolation or quarantine to maintain their safety and enhance their recovery procedures.  

“SEHA” For Doctors service

​​​​The e-health “Seha” For Doctors App provides online medical consultation service through MOH’s accredited doctors in all specialities. It enables patients to get these consultations via chat, voice or video calls.

​“Mawid” Service

The e-appointment “Mawid” App allows patients to book their appointments in primary healthcare centres in coordination with the concerned department. Hence, patients can book, amend or cancel their appointments at any hospital where they were referred through a seamless channel offered by this App.

“Mawared” Service

The Enterprise Resource Planning “Mawared” App is designed to provide official self-services to MOH’s staff. The App serves as the single official channel to apply for all types of leave, including annual, sick and casual as well as other assignments.

E-Prescription Service

This e-prescription service allows patients to share symptoms with an online doctor before receiving a pharmacist-approved prescription based on the virtual consultation.