Telehealth services in the UAE are constantly being upgraded. Take up rates only need more residents to feel comfortable with getting their health status done online. Image Credit: Shutterstock

I can’t say I adapt to every technology innovation out there.

In an online world I’ve a big preference for face-to-face meetings, while a quick phone call trumps a message on social media every time.

Innovation in healthcare, however, is something I’m a massive advocate for. What technology can do for patients – from visualising a body’s internal workings to treatments without invasive surgery – is extraordinary.

I’m equally enthused by technology’s growing role in health insurance and the use of a policy. Most prominently, the availability of telemedicine, also called telehealth.

This involves speaking onscreen to a DHA-licensed doctor through an online platform that is typically built by an insurer but – importantly – is a separate entity to that insurer. It’s therefore an alternative to an out-patient hospital visit.

For the day-to-day coughs and colds, a so-called virtual consultation can cut time and effort for the policy member, especially if conducted from home as they try to get well.

Medication can be prescribed on the call and delivered directly to the member, and a sick certification can be issued – making this fast, efficient and cost-effective.

Health supply chain benefits

It’s important to consider what telemedicine brings to the table from each stakeholder’s perspective.

For the member, they can get straight to the point of what’s wrong. They’re not subject to tests frequently done by default on out-patients that can hold up a simple diagnosis – particularly blood tests that have a 24-hour turnaround.

For the hospital, it cuts the volume of visitors with only minor ailments and so saves the valuable time of doctors and nurses. Time instead can be focused on emergencies, surgeries, and in-patient care.

Researchers in the US point out that virtual consultation allows a valuable learning tool for newer doctors, while engaging with policy members ‘where they are’ overcomes the issues of reaching people in remote locations.

Human resources can keep track of the number of members that have signed up to the platform, even if the identity of the member and the outcome of the consultation are confidential.

Then there’s the insurance policy. Online consultation can achieve the diagnosis and prescription at a fraction of the cost of claim compared to walk-in. Over time, the difference to the total claims on a 12-month policy can be significant.

Most insurers now have a telemedicine platform.

Present usage

Before Covid-19, the use of telemedicine by a company’s staff in the MENA region was low. Research from VPS-Philips outlined a couple of factors, including a lack of digital infrastructure, few business incentives nor substantial focus on a regulatory level.

Many still preferred a face-to-face consultation; a proportion of people always will. The pandemic, however, presented a risk to in-person check-ins and so expedited the development of telehealth.

In four years, I have seen estimates of telemedicine use go from less than 1 per cent to between 12-18 per cent.

It’s an area I frequently discuss with decision-makers in HR. The year-on-year cost saving can be substantial, helping make a policy more sustainable and reducing the need to cut benefits to save on the increasing premiums.

Moreover, telemedicine contributes to a wider trend in healthcare to more personalised medical experiences. In this case, the convenience of the member. They can get consultation for their dependents, too, without the need to travel with little ones to hospital and preventing unnecessary exposure.

Companies introducing telemedicine to staff and encouraging use have really produced positive results. It’s just one of the many areas that insurance advisers can help both members and employees have a more efficient - and simple - process.