What the GCC is getting right in healthcare may be exactly what the rest of the world needs.

The news isn’t good for healthcare. At least that’s what healthcare author, consultant, and futurist Ian Morrison PhD said recently at the National Healthcare Innovation Summit. It’s no surprise that his warnings at an innovation summit were about the need to innovate. But seeing his list of reasons is an eye-opening reminder that Healthcare in the U.S. and elsewhere had better get its act together if it’s ever going to cope with the tsunami of needs building momentum on Aging’s horizon.

Fortunately, Morrison is a world traveler and global speaker, which is why he was recently in Dubai to present at Arab Health 2014. While there, he had a chance to meet with healthcare leaders and inspect the landscape in the region—and what he found impressed him. In an article about his visit, Morrison lists some of the things that he sees the GCC doing right in healthcare—which could offer valuable lessons to the struggling behemoths in the U.S. and other countries, where progress is frequently frustrated by a variety of factors— including the inability to make safe, functional and universal interoperability a reality.

Dire Future Warnings

Morrison’s dire-future predictions were born of the trends that he sees in the U.S. healthcare system—like the move toward health exchanges for the purchase of insurance; increased reliance on Medicare as insurance; massive consolidations of hospital systems—which typically slow innovation; and a potential future filled with employers who don’t provide health insurance. “These are powerful forces that will require us to innovate. By 2025 a full 20 percent of the population will be over 65. And they will not be the passive stoics of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. They will be cranky, selfish, self-indulgent baby boomers like me. They will want everything and sacrifice nothing. Armed with information and attitude they will demand the best that technology can offer. And technology will oblige. The combination of progress in medical science and information technology holds the promise of dazzling new interventions that will be incredibly effective and expensive. We will want it all.”

And increasingly, the definition of “wanting it all” is found in the Continuity of Care stanza from Interoperability’s Songbook. Consumers are frustrated by the inability to move with ease from one provider to another without filling up pages of handwritten forms and visit updates. They want to be able to walk into a provider’s office, or stretch out on an emergency room cart with a focus on getting better, not on repeating for the thousandth time the seemingly mundane-yet-critical details of their medical and medication histories that they may not even remember. It’s here that the tease of interoperability pushes consumers over the edge—where the left and right hands fail to communicate, leaving the befuddled patient in the vulnerable middle, wondering when the Technology Knight is actually going to show up on that white horse and provide some real help.

It’s also here that we find the failings of interoperability impacting what Morrison refers to as the Triple Aim that all healthcare providers are faced with: improving quality, increasing access and decreasing costs. As he notes, “When you get in the Triple Aim work, you have to think in different kinds of innovations. You have to open your mind. You’ve got to get serious. I don’t think we’re going back to the 1970s. The purchasers have had it; they’re not going to take it anymore.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent and exciting healthcare technology innovations happening in the U.S.—which is typically the breeding ground of this type of thought-leadership and development. But the issues of government and behemoth-health-system bureaucracies and the hands-off-attitudes of propriety interests frequently hinder the effective interfacing that consumers and providers need. And increasingly, we’re finding that the stuffy boardrooms of experience may stall  innovation more than drive it, since trends are indicating that regions of newest adoption are sometimes the most efficient—something that’s particularly exciting about the GCC.

GCC Pioneers

During his visit to Dubai, Morrison spoke with a leading group of hospital CEOs in the Arab world. In an article about his visit, he identifies the unique issues that are both fundamental advantages and challenges for the region, as well as a key factor in terms of innovation: Leapfrog Opportunities. “Gulf countries are extremely wired (or rather wireless). They have huge Internet penetration, they have double the number of cell phone subscribers per capita as the United States, and they are extremely high users of social media (as documented in a wonderful 2013 study by Northwestern University and Harris Interactive for the government of Qatar). This platform represents an opportunity for the Gulf to leapfrog over all our steam-driven, meaningless-use health IT systems to social, mobile and big data enablement of health care.”

Morrison says the feeling among health IT business leaders in the region, like Deborah DiSanzo, CEO of Philips Healthcare, is that the Gulf states can be pioneers in this area. Since she’s the steering board chair of the World Economic Forum’s project on Health Systems Leapfrogging in Emerging Economies, she should know. This recently-launched three-year initiative seeks to learn from and capitalize upon the agile-emerging-market dynamic, as described in its initial project paper: “Trailing behind has advantages. Emerging economies are generally less burdened by the legacies of the past and enjoy a greater degree of freedom to design efficient and cost-effective systems. This allows them to leverage technological advances more easily to learn from the experiences of developed economies. Seizing this unique opportunity requires an innovative, well-coordinated and implementable set of actions that relies on the expertise, support and collaboration of diverse stakeholders...Thus, the initiative, Leapfrogging in the Health Systems of Emerging Economies: Transformation Towards Sustainability, sets out to identify insights for emerging economies…its objectives are two-fold: to describe a health system vision based on key lessons from the experiences of developed and emerging economies and to develop potential paths for the health systems of emerging economies to leap over the problems encountered by developed economies as they achieve this health system vision. The initiative will yield a holistic understanding of health system challenges in emerging economies and create strategies to ensure systems are financially sustainable, while also delivering high quality, cost-effective and accessible care that satisfies individuals’ expectations.”

The good news for the U.S. healthcare system is that DiSanzo and Philips are not alone in the GCC. Welcomed for their experience and expertise, U.S.-based healthcare powerhouses like Cerner, Allscripts, Epic, Siemens, GE, Johns Hopkins, the Cleveland Clinic and others are all present in the region. This makes the GCC an excellent environment for such organizations to create and implement solutions with more agility than is possible in the sluggish environments of elsewhere. And even better, they can serve as examples and conduits of how-we-can-do-it better innovation for their U.S. and other global counterparts.

With such an environment of practice and business agility linked to the expertise of key partners in the region, the types of solutions that are needed to alter healthcare’s dire future may indeed be found in the GCC—a region ripe with leapfrog potential to optimize the outcomes that effective innovation can provide.