Hub71 invited Dr. Ahmed Shafi, the world’s ‘most watched’ virtual reality-surgeon and healthtech entrepreneur, to show us what the future of healthcare looks like, and to discuss the impact of VR technology and other health innovations on universal healthcare issues all the world.

Dr. Ahmed Shafi comes across warm, approachable and friendly, with loads of positivity. Despite spending his life operating on cancer patients for 20+ years – the last few behind surgical VR glasses – Dr. Shafi is very much connected with the real-world’s ‘healthcare crisis’, as he calls it, and has made it his mission to provide global universal healthcare to those who may not be able to access it.

“We need to democratize healthcare,” says Dr. Shafi, a futurist who believes that the clear winning solution to our global healthcare crisis is enabling technology-enhanced healthcare. “We need to make healthcare accessible and affordable to all patients; despite their location, income and the gravity of their healthcare requirements.”

In addition to surgery, Dr. Shafi teaches in over 35 countries and helps governments, charities, NGOs to improve access to medical care and training; shaping the way policymakers and institutions think about the use of health technology in often archaic healthcare systems. “The future of healthcare is to create it,” is a phrase he is often quoted. “The future is already here around the world – just not in equal proportions” In the UAE alone, there has been a 3.6% growth in health care costs from 1970 to 2016. Globally, the stats show that we’re short 15 million healthcare workers around the world. So, how can we scale support?

“Globally, the stats show that we’re short 15 million healthcare workers around the world.”

One solution is to “bring exponential growth of computing into the healthcare setting” and to change our collective mindset to: “We can do it!”. Dr. Shafi talks about creating a “new generation of digital doctors”, bringing on the “rise of medical entrepreneurs” – young people with amazing talent to create MedTech, medical devices and training tools like, Medical Realities, of which he is a cofounder of. Famous for being the world’s first virtual and augmented reality firm that provides virtual reality (VR) Interactive Surgical Training modules for training surgeons globally, Dr. Shafi is now building the hospital of the future in Bolivia – a digital hospital with the vision of incorporating voice technology, facial recognition and artificial intelligence.

And it seems the world is listening. The NHS in England has the Clinical Entrepreneur’s Program and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates have its very own HealthTechHub launched by the Department of Health Abu Dhabi, which is located in Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s growing tech ecosystem.

Dr’s Shafi’s extensive world tours, countless university lectures, TedTalks and meetings with health organizations and policymakers from around the world, are working. Hospitals are adapting to new innovations every day and healthcare systems are being transformed for the digital revolution. But the reality is that access to health care is not quite universal nor standardized.

For this global issue which is tragically still true in places like Gaza and rural areas across the world, even in countries like Australia; Dr. Shafi demonstrated to the audience a more equitable future with examples of Amazon’s wiz-bang-AI-assisted-Alexa at the center of healthcare diagnostics. Just imagine the impact this will have on an inexperienced parent who isn’t quite sure whether their fevered child needs to sleep off the sniffles, or to be rushed to A&E for life-threatening meningitis; all with a few simple diagnostic questions.

Or, consider how much time could be saved by having affable chatbots asking intelligent pre-consultation questions to help discharge time-strapped nurses from some of the more ‘methodical’ parts of their day.

Lastly, Dr. Shafi enlightens us all with a tried and tested methodology: precision medicine – an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that considers individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person using data and research. Aptly enabling doctors to predict the best treatments for individuals in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach which has rocked the medical world for centuries.

“It’s an exciting time to be alive!”

But despite the global health issues facing the world, his positivity and enthusiasm is infectious – “It’s an exciting time to be alive!” concludes Dr. Shafi.

And, after hearing him speak in the flesh about the next-generation technology and innovation being spun out universities, hospitals and entrepreneurs, perhaps universal healthcare isn’t just a virtual reality – it’s simply in alpha-testing mode.