DHA telemedicine
Care and consultation is just a key stroke away - UAE and Gulf residents have adjusted to medical services being delivered digitally. It will remain so even after the COVID-19 virus becomes history. Image Credit:

Dubai: Treat the patient wherever they are – even if it means delivering the care right at their homes. As in every sphere of life after COVID-19, hybrid ways are building up in the healthcare space too.

The intention is to reduce all non-critical visits to the hospital or clinic, if the consultation and cure can be provided through digital means. UAE’s hospital operators sure are ready for that.

“As most patients prefer to avail medical services from their homes, we were the first private player in the UAE to introduce telemedicine facilities,” said Dr. Azad Moopen, Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare. “Across the seven countries we operate, our telehealth has 800 doctors enrolled and who have provided more than 100,000 consultations.

“We have introduced a combination of at home, digital health and ecommerce services to shift the entire process of booking an appointment, consulting a doctor, follow-ups and delivery of prescription medicines to the home of a patient. This is substantiated with other services like doctor@home, nurses@home, vaccination and lab collection at home to suit different needs.

“It is a reality that outpatient healthcare is slowly and rightfully moving to the doorstep of people.”

In a way, the experience of living/combating COVID-19 through these 17 months will shape how the future plays out across sectors. The workplace has already been altered, with flexibility on where and how work can get done. Shopping habits keep changing at a speed unthinkable even a year ago. As another crucial ingredient of living, medical needs – and how those needs are met - will evolve overnight.

“The foray into digital health is an investment we are making for the future,” Dr. Moopen added. “We have introduced solutions like E-ICU, Home ICU, TeleRadiology, Telepathology Remote Monitoring, etc.. The focus for us will be on digital transformation of health and offering online comfort along with brick-and-mortar. This hybrid model will help us to reach more patients.”

The focus for us will be on digital transformation of health and offering online comfort along with offline brick-and-mortar. This hybrid model will help us to reach more patients.

- Dr. Azad Moopen of Aster DM Healthcare

New Sharjah, Muscat openings

The physical side of Aster’s healthcare services is being bulked up – an 80-bed hospital in Sharjah is expected to start operations “within this year”. This is the operator’s ninth hospital in the UAE and comes just months after the opening of one in Dubai’s Al Ghusais neighbourhood. Another opening will be for a 145-bed hospital in Muscat by next year. This would be its fourth hospital in Oman. Combined investments on these two add up to Dh320 million, a “large part of which is already made”.

“The pandemic has been one of the toughest times all of us have witnessed - however, it has also acted as a catalyst in our evolution into a more sustainable organisation,” he added. “Healthcare providers have been facing challenges regarding return on investments, especially due to insurance rejections and discounts. We are in constant conversation with insurance companies - and the authorities - to see that there is sustainability in these difficult times.”

Asset ‘light’

In India, the group is going for a change of strategy. Instead of committing massive investments into building its own hospitals, Aster’s taking an “asset light” approach.

“Asset light helps in reducing the capital investment in buildings, which is better built by others and leased to us,” the chairman said. “We then come in with the equipment and do the operations. We expect the ‘new normal’ behaviour of patients to avail services from the comfort of their homes to continue - our operations are now geared towards meeting these needs.”

Go bigger in Bengaluru

The one city in India where Aster will be expanding beyond its current base is Bengaluru. “We are also planning a larger hospital there once Aster Whitfield is commissioned, as we find the potential for good hospitals very high in the city,” said Dr. Moopen. “The proposed hospital in Yeshvanthpur shall be a 650-bed facility.

“The Aster Whitfield Hospital will be developed into a multi-specialty facility with 350 beds, including for oncology. We have launched Phase 1 as an Aster Women & Children Hospital, which is a boutique facility.

“The existing hospitals in Kerala are also in the process of adding beds as the capacity utilization is ramping up fast. We expect to add around 1,300 beds in the next three years in India to our existing 3,757 beds. We continue to be committed to our expansion in India and see a strong potential for growth.”