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Leadership Interview Series: AHIMA International highlights leaders from across the globe during this unprecedented time and the impact of COVID-19 and the way ahead.

We recently caught up with Atif Al Braiki, CEO of Abu Dhabi Data Services LLC (Malaffi) and member of the AHIMA International Strategic Advisory Council. In this interview, we asked about the impact of COVID-19 in Abu Dhabi and insight into the future

What has been the impact of COVID-19 in your region?

Abu Dhabi’s HIE, Malaffi, has been an instrumental part in the Emirate’s COVID-19 response. As Winston Churchill once famously said – ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’, the pandemic provided an opportunity to showcase the power of connected healthcare.

To manage the outbreak, the UAE and Abu Dhabi governments carried out COVID-19 tests at an unprecedented rate, which is now allowing the return to normal. The test results needed to be easily and quickly accessible. Having started with the onboarding of the healthcare providers, when the pandemic struck Malaffi was prepared to accelerate, and immediately centralise COVID-19 laboratory test results from all testing sites in Abu Dhabi, regardless if they were already connected to Malaffi, and without compromising security.

This enabled the creation of real-time database of laboratory results that helped the DOH strengthen the COVID-19 response by assessing the effectiveness of the preventive measures and allowed the efficient allocation of resources, better capacity utilisation and coordination of care across in the Emirate.

In addition, Malaffi provided urgent secure access to the Malaffi provider portal to those that are not connected to Malaffi and are part of Abu Dhabi’s COVID-19 response. As patients with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms from COVID-19, it was important for the front-line teams to have access to the medical history to make quicker and more effective first-response decisions.

What do you see as current challenges?

Malaffi is facing similar challenges as other HIEs globally. During the pandemic, there was an escalated need to share healthcare data between different system, which exposed issues of gaps in data standardisation and interoperability. To address this issue, for an example, the Department of Health-Abu Dhabi urgently mandated all reference laboratories to record the patient’s Emirates ID number for all tests, which as a unique identifier enabled the matching of patient’s data.

Furthermore, there has always been a tension between the huge potential of Big Data and the privacy concerns over the use of such information. Even though it is apparent that Big Data has the power of transforming the way healthcare is delivered, data privacy advocates fear the sharing of important patient data will lead to information being misused and potentially made public. While this is a legitimate concern, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that controlled data sharing within a secure network can play a crucial role in tackling this and future outbreaks to benefit the public significantly.

Patients in Abu Dhabi are now beginning to see first-hand how the smart use of Big Data, through Malaffi, plays a central role in protecting the health and safety of the community. However, there is much more that can and should be done for current and future healthcare challenges to benefit from the valuable potential that Big Data holds. By collating and sharing data responsibly with well thought out security measures, we can significantly improve patient outcomes while respecting their privacy. The choice between safety and privacy is no longer mutually exclusive.


In your opinion, what does the future hold?

Innovation is an important element of what we do, and we are continuously striving to improve platform functionalities. As a result, earlier this year, we unveiled the preview of the Malaffi patient app, which is expected to launch early 2021. The app was developed with patients in mind by placing them at the heart of the user experience design. The app is convenient and empowers patients to access their Malaffi file which contains a summary of their medical history, test results, key information about their treatment and medication – all accessible from anywhere and at any time.  

Looking further ahead, the potential additional benefits of HIE (Health Information Exchange) platforms are endless as we discover the new capabilities that we can develop by using data. For example, we can combine clinical and other data sources, such as genomics, to enable the practice of precision medicine in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. We will also be able to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning for predictive analytics, to enable early diagnosis and more effective prevention measures for all.