The first wave of innovation accelerators based on the 3rd Platform technologies of cloud, mobility, Big Data, and social media are beginning to roll into the Middle East and Africa (MEA) healthcare sector, with the Internet of things (IoT) set to play a fundamental role in shaping the digital transformation that will determine the industry’s future direction.

That’s according to the latest pronouncements from IDC Health Insights, which is confident that the currently nascent MEA IoT market will take off rapidly, offering considerable potential to vendors and healthcare providers alike through the rest of the decade.

“Few fields have greater IoT opportunities than healthcare,” says Nino Giguashvili, IDC Health Insights’ lead research analyst for Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (CEMA). “Sensor-based technologies offer tremendous benefits at all levels, from inpatient treatment and community-based healthcare to social services and self-care, providing new opportunities for disease prevention via screening and early detection. IoT technologies capable of automatically collecting and processing patient data enable us to capture early predictors of diseases while onset is still preventable and to diagnose diseases at early stages, when their progression and unwanted outcomes can be averted.”

With the availability of a wide range of telemedicine solutions, IoT has the potential to break down the distance barriers in healthcare, which are particularly acute in parts of the MEA region. Sensor-based systems can be used to monitor various critical health parameters in healthcare facilities, as well as remotely. Earlier this year, for example, Etisalat and Enayati Home Health Care (a UAE-based Canadian nursing care center) launched a pilot home-monitoring system in Dubai. Developed by Equivital (a British company that focuses on IoT technology), the system will enable Enayati’s healthcare staff to monitor high volumes of physiological data on their patients (collected from patient-body-worn sensors) in real time or retrospectively and to manage their patients remotely.

“The Internet of Things will make available a wealth of health-relevant data that can be used to make informed healthcare decisions,” says Giguashvili. “Data systems are rather underdeveloped in the region, and critical information is often missing. In the extreme case of rural Africa, community health workers often need to go door-to-door to collect critical data on health-related issues, such as data on immunization statuses. IoT-enabled technologies such as fingerprint-based recognition methods could ease this process significantly.”

“All in all, IoT will dramatically transform healthcare in the region,” continues Giguashvili. “Exciting new applications are rapidly emerging to address the need for care that is affordable, accessible, preventive, and convenient for patients. The so-called ‘Internet of health’ is gaining momentum fast, and the innovation-accelerating impact of IoT on healthcare markets will be massive, ultimately making healthcare more proactive, more convenient, safer, smarter, and simply better.”