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Saudi Arabia’s health system will be able to benefit significantly from better out of hospital and community-based services, as the Kingdom adopts Integrated Care Systems (ICS) to deliver great patient experience and outcomes at lower costs.

The healthcare sector is undergoing a huge transformation as part of the Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to strengthen primary care as a key vehicle for better access, quality and affordability.

Although direct international comparisons are difficult, on average, member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) spend around 28 percent of their healthcare resources on inpatient care, compared to 47 percent in Saudi Arabia.

Many Saudi patients could be better cared for through dedicated pre- and post-acute extended services such as community nursing, rehabilitation, long-term and palliative care. The ICS and Model of Care components of the National Healthcare Transformation Strategy are tasked with tackling this and will stand or fall on whether the reforms go beyond organizational restructuring and payment model redesign.

A very practical and relevant example is how to repurpose smaller hospitals with around 50 beds. With the movement to a health system that is less hospital-centric, we hear often these smaller scale facilities need to be closed, however in our view these hospitals can be uniquely positioned to play a strong role in the community as integrated health centers.

Since strengthening out of hospital services is critical to fulfilling the aims of the Kingdom’s 2030 Healthcare Transformation Strategy, it is important to emphasize accountable care organizations represented by a cluster-based approach in which each region acts independently and designs its services based on the local needs of their population.

The shift to an integrated care system activates extended care in its various forms, whether it is out of hospital care, leverage of technology and mobile health or the emphasis on primary care. It elevates the burden on specialized care and more importantly provides efficiency, which is one of the biggest challenges of healthcare system.

Furthermore, staff working to improve integrated care across hospitals and the community frequently cite fragmented technology platforms as one the biggest barriers to improving out of hospital care services and better managing patient transitions.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has itself developed an ambitious digital strategy that seeks to connect all levels of care through a five-year implementation plan. This represents a major investment in healthcare technology, and significant clinical, operational and cultural challenges.

Managing a program of this nature will require a highly organized governance structure, as well as flexibility to change as new technological tools become available during the period of implementation.

It is important to underline that the difference is in action and not clever policy design alone: the detailed work of bringing partners together, co-designing services with patients and caregivers, supporting staff to work differently, and investing in the technologies that can link up different professionals and settings. 

There is strong evidence to suggest that from a structural perspective, healthcare provision in Saudi Arabia is far more skewed towards traditional hospital-based services. Successful global extended care initiatives can guide Saudi Arabia’s path to success.