A broad range of technologies will fundamentally change the way healthcare providers consult, diagnose, treat and track patient progress. But how are they being applied in this region, where Gulf countries have placed healthcare as a key element in their respective visions and national agendas?
Long before any of us had heard of Covid-19, GCC governments have treated investment in the healthcare technology space as a priority. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s stated national visions have preventative healthcare at their core, as well as easy access to consultation for patients.
We now have an app, Apollo 24/7, which features a triaging tool that can be used free of cost by people sitting at home.
Gulf public sector moves
In the UAE, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has been working on a number of initiatives over the past few years. In 2018, DHA launched its Smart Homecare services, which allowed the authority’s teams to visit a patient’s residence to take readings using equipment such as a non-contact thermometer, auto-arm blood pressure monitor, 4g router, smart tablet, pulse oximeter, connected pocket electrocardiogram, blood glucose monitor, wireless stethoscope and a digital scope system. The data would be shared with a physician, saving the time of all parties involved. On the surgical front, the authority announced earlier this month that it would be introducing robotic surgeries in the near future at Rashid Hospital’s Trauma Centre, beginning with knee replacements. Earlier this year, DHA opened a 3D Printing Lab at its Innovation Centre. The lab allows surgeons to print a detailed 3D model of a patient’s organ or joint to study prior to a procedure, improving efficiency, safety and outcomes.
Meanwhile, DHA’s counterpart authority in the capital became the first in the region to launch a set of mandatory AI regulations and guidelines for drug makers, researchers, healthcare operators and insurers working in the city. More recently, at Arab Health in January, Abu Dhabi Health Co. (SEHA) announced Shaikh Shakhbout Medical City, which was developed in partnership with the US-based Mayo Clinic. Shaikh Shakhbout is the first medical centre in the country to provide advanced treatments and surgeries for burns.
In Saudi Arabia, the ministry of health signed an agreement with Sanofi Saudi Arabia to localise and transfer insulin tech, both for domestic use and for export to other GCC states. The Saudi Minister of Health, Dr Tawfiq Al Rabiah, said during the signing that this move aimed at speeding up the availability of new drugs for the treatment of diabetes in the kingdom, which currently spends about 47 per cent of its healthcare resources on inpatient care, compared to 28 per cent for other OECD nations.
Private sector initiatives
The telehealth sector has been of great interest of the private sector — and it’s something that the rise of Covid-19 has naturally fuelled. “We now have an app, Apollo 24/7, which features a triaging tool that can be used free of cost by people sitting at home,” says Dr Hari K. Prasad, President of the Apollo Group of Hospitals. “This app also provides for teleconsultations with Apollo specialists facilitating social distancing.”
Apollo has also launched a free WhatsApp service, where people can send a request for information or to clear their doubts and the doctors will reply. “We are also using home healthcare, eICU and telemedicine, tele-radiology and tele-pathology platforms to reach out to the community.”
It can play a critical role as patients would be more likely to consult with a doctor, even if it is for a small issue, if all they had to do was pick up the phone,” says Joe Hawayek, Director of Population Health and vHealth.
Convenience is a huge benefit of telehealth services too. “It can play a critical role as patients would be more likely to consult with a doctor, even if it is for a small issue, if all they had to do was pick up the phone,” says Joe Hawayek, Director of Population Health and vHealth. For example, at vHealth, our case work involves patients consulting on everything from a common cold to nutrition, diabetes and joint pain. Just based on a phone conversation, our doctors are able to very quickly, and early on, diagnose the problem, provide a treatment plan and prescribe medication where required. In fact, our data shows that every vHealth consultation saves patients at least 2.5 hours away from their desk/home.
“Another critical benefit of telehealth services is the management of chronic sicknesses such as diabetes. Once a patient has been diagnosed with one of these conditions, telehealth doctors can proactively manage the patient with regular check-ups and medication reviews without having to see the patient physically.”
And as the coronavirus dominates conversation worldwide, UAE-based entrepreneur Khurram Shroff has joined British biotech outfit Vaxbio and pledged $5 million (Dh18.36 million) towards R&D of a Covid-19 vaccine.