The concept of tele-health (use of digital information and communication technologies to access health care services remotely) has found renewed interest in the UAE, on the back of reforms that govern and promote the administration of remote health care. During the first quarter of 2019 alone, the Dubai Healthcare City unveiled the free zone’s first regulated tele-health platform.
Ahead of this, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled a 50-year charter to improve the quality of life in Dubai, including providing a doctor for every citizen in the emirate. The move hints to the relevance of tele-health in a country that is witnessing rapid growth and population expansion.
That being said, the success of tele-health is highly dependent on the engagement of medical professionals. Securing the buy-in of the medical fraternity is a crucial factor in the launch, development, and ultimate effectiveness of global tele-health solutions.
Fortunately, the tides are changing. Our own experience with tele-health for our customers in Dubai has been highly positive. The appetite for health care on demand is on the rise, and as a result we are seeing more acceptance for tele-health among consumers and medical professionals alike.
Awareness is key to a successful tele-health model. Whether we train medical students on effective tele-health consultations, or inform the masses through medical networks, the desired outcome should be a better-equipped, accepting and forward-looking health care ecosystem
Telehealth is used for consultations between clinicians and patients, and among clinicians themselves, who employ new technologies to communicate with each other and share information, knowledge, insight, and clinical expertise. Certain medical specialities are already leading the way with tele-health adoption, particularly within fast-evolving fields.
In teleradiology, for example, medical professionals are not only seeing the benefits of working with the available technology, but are also driving the change, using technology to share, review, and analyse radiological images of patients with other clinicians, across locations. Teleradiology has now become a routine part of modern radiology, ahead of other tele-health fields.
The current global tele-health market is valued at $38.3 billion (Dh140.6 billion), and predicted to exceed $130.5 billion by 2025, growing at an expected rate of 19.2 per cent. According to the 2018 Cigna Wellbeing Survey, 78 per cent of respondents from the Middle East region agreed that the use of digital technology in health care has the potential to bring good health to more people. Moreover, one in three respondents indicated a preference to access health and well-being solutions through their phone, and on the go.
On the other hand, research shows that traditionally some health professionals’ resistance to tele-health has been rooted in the view that it endangers the face-to-face interaction key to the clinical care experience, compounded by a rejection of the idea that technology could act as a substitute for physical contact and in-person consults. There is also a layer of technological mistrust and a lack of conviction that tele-health will have a positive impact on the medical profession as a whole.
Telehealth attempts to break the mold of traditional health care experiences, and understandably, this will be a gradual process. Yet, even at in nascent stages, remote care through existing digital platforms offers us a window in to the fast-paced, impactful future of health care.
A 2010 World Health Organisation policy brief supports the argument for tele-health applications having “considerable potential to effectively support the growing call for better integrated care.” The Future Health Index Reports add weight to this argument, supporting the theory that incorporating tele-health into current care offerings can lead to further benefits and “accelerate countries along the path to value-based health care.”
The path to a connected health journey should start at the grass roots. Awareness is key to a successful tele-health model. Whether we train medical students on effective tele-health consultations, or inform the masses through medical networks, the desired outcome should be a better-equipped, accepting and forward-looking health care ecosystem.
— Jerome Droesch is the CEO of Cigna Middle East and North Africa.