Telemedicine solutions get fast tracked in UAE
Telemedicine solutions have witnessed a surge in popularity across the UAE due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with many medical institutions jumping on the trend by offering several options for residents that continue to practice social distancing.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Dr. Mishal Al Kasimi, founder and CEO of Capital Health Group and Health Shield Medical Center, noted that the practice will continue to gain steam, especially after the Covid-19 lockdowns came into effect last year.
“It is true that the Covid-19 pandemic shocked the healthcare system, but it also shocked the system to call for quicker action,” he said. “Telemedicine can be defined as the provision of medical care at a distance through all forms of telecommunication technology, such as telephones or virtual meeting spaces, and offers many advantages over traditional physical healthcare visitations, but until recently, it was largely underutilised. The Covid-19 pandemic had changed that and we are noticing an increase in the acceptance of telemedicine technology.”
Elaborating on the benefits of the service, he said that patients were happy at the convenience and confidentiality that it offered. “Telemedicine can make medical care more readily available especially to patients who have difficulty accessing it due to distance challenges, and this is vital for us across the rehabilitation and disability fields. As such, telemedicine provides better confidentiality for patients who may not want to be seen at the clinic or hospital, and it also provides family members living in scattered locations around the globe the opportunity to participate in their loved one’s care and recovery process.”
Dr. Mishal Al Kasimi, like many other experts, pointed out that telemedicine is not a new concept, but one that was slowly growing in popularity even before the Covid-19 pandemic. In a country where people prioritise convenience, experience and technology, it’s no surprise that the UAE has embraced telehealth quicker than most. Research by Aetna International found that 54 per cent of UAE expats are highly likely to use virtual healthcare services to access primary care, 14 per cent higher than the global average. The deployment of a unified electronic medical record, which gives providers a comprehensive view of a patient’s healthcare information, also continues to gain traction in the region. The UAE, in particular, hopes to digitise all health records and unify them in a single database by 2022.
When it comes to UAE residents using telehealth services, data from vHealth showed a 500 per cent increase in utilisation between March and September 2020, compared to the same period last year.
“There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has helped to accelerate adoption, but confidence in services like vHealth were already growing before the pandemic,” said Joe Hawayek, senior director and head of vHealth MEA. “Customers trust the service and see it as a marked improvement on face-to-face consultations. You only have to look at our customer satisfaction scores to realise that those who have tried it are going to use it more and more in the future.”
Dr. Mishal Al Kasimi noted that the pandemic has helped lower the barriers that had previously slowed down the utilisation and investment in integrated, intelligent, and virtual health applications. “With smarter AI and an increasing amount of data availability, there will be an increase in the quality of treatment at hand as well. By reducing inefficiencies and excessive testing, more money could then be spent on delivering better treatment at an earlier time. This means that for the first time in healthcare history, we have a staggering amount of technology, information and processing power available for use by doctors and hospitals which can improve the overall healthcare system.”
“Similarly, cell phones today are considered more powerful than computers that were developed a couple of decades ago, and with access to the Internet getting more widespread worldwide, we have a near-constant access to a connected world of information,” he added. “Additionally, we have more patients who are willing to participate in telemedicine and virtual healthcare system nowadays, where the most traditional of industries are urged to reassess their standardised practices, to adapt to the new world of technology that we live in.”
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Health and Prevention has been keen to boost its telemedicine system to ensure the safety of community members, reduce health risks, and mitigate the burden of commuting between hospitals and outpatient clinics. MoHAP has developed more than one way to enable patients to communicate with doctors, whether by sending an electronic link to patients’ phones reminding them of the appointment or by directly contacting MoHAP’s hotline number.
At present, telemedicine services include cardiology, pediatrics, internal medicine and nutrition, and remote mental health services, such as psycho-social support, rehabilitation programs for drug-addicted patients, and other psychiatric departments and community psychiatry of different age groups, such as adults, the elderly, children, and adolescents. The service is also featuring motherhood, childhood, public health, and disease prevention educational programs.