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Combating Covid-19: Telehealth gains momentum amid #StayHome drive in UAE

Combating, Covid-19, Telehealth, gains, momentum, amid, #StayHome, drive, UAE

Dubai - Hospital and clinic call centres are receiving a flood of patient queries as they strategise and update their telemedicine services.

By Nandini Sircar

Published: Mon 6 Apr 2020, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2020, 12:20 AM

Telemedicine or telehealth is playing a critical role in the UAE's fight against Covid-19.
In support of the continuing "stay home" national campaign, UAE residents are communicating with doctors through telehealth services and online platforms.
This means, hospital and clinic call centres are receiving a flood of patient queries as they strategise and update their telemedicine services.
While some queries can be resolved through phone calls and video conferencing, other cases warrant more serious clinical intervention.
Patient concerns
A 64-year-old Indian expat (who did not wish to be named) in Dubai, is now developing blisters in her left arm. Initial physiotherapy, after surgery and radiation seemed to have worked well for some time. But now with the deteriorating condition of her arm, visiting the doctor, is gaining urgency again.
"Her physiotherapy has stopped due to the current situation. She is a cancer patient and has a compromised immune system. So, we don't want her to go to the hospital as doctors themselves are advising against it. Although, we are in constant touch with her doctor over the phone her condition worries us. We are thinking what should be our next course of action at this juncture," said her son, a JLT resident.
Similarly, Varis Sayed's 78-year-old mother suffers from chronic diseases like diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. She even has a pacemaker in her heart.
Varis bought an insulin kit a few weeks ago to monitor his mother's sugar levels as walk-in visits to the clinic have massively minimised due to social distancing. But the main concern troubling his mind is how would he procure a new prescription for his mother's fast depleting medicine stock?
"Her stock of medicines is running out and the pharmacy will not give you medicines based on an old prescription. Before issuing a new prescription, doctors always want to physically examine their patients and check their vitals. We don't want to expose her to the hospital in the present scenario as she has so many ailments and her immunity is really low," said Varis, who lives in Springs.
Telemedicine solutions: Understanding the new system
Answering these queries and dispelling patients' doubts, Dr Suhail Kazim, medical director and senior consultant general surgeon, Emirates Hospital Jumeirah said: "Authorities are looking at developing new and efficient telehealth modules to resolve such problems. Patients can acquire e-prescriptions with a bar code from their doctors. The pharmacy will then give out medicines to the patient based on that e-prescription and after checking the bar code. This will also be used to address all insurance and billing issues that hospitals are looking into."
Healthcare providers are also admitting that as the telemedicine and virtual consulting industry has become the need of the hour, there are still several challenges to consider.
"Adding new technologies and processes to your organisation is a big move and cannot be a straightforward thing. New systems are still in the process of being developed. It means logistics pertaining to billing, coding, compliance and liability - which is complex - needs to be understood well," added Dr Kazim.
Tele-monitoring: Increased doctor-patient involvement
While Prime Hospital is receiving 100-150 tele consultation calls per day, practising physicians are also busy 'tele-monitoring' patients through video conferencing.
"These are our regular patients whose medical history is available on the hospital's online portal. Through a live webcast, we see patients who require routine treatment for BP, blood sugar or even patients with a low-grade fever. They check themselves with a thermometer or a BP machine and then give us details over this video call. If needed, we send technicians to collect their samples from home and in some cases also engage in end-to-end medical delivery facilities," said Dr Ahmed Saleh, director of Prime Corp (Prime Healthcare Group).
Especially advising the elderly to stay indoors and maintain physical distancing, Dr Mohamed Rafique, medical director, pulmonologist & chair of infection control, Prime Hospital, said: "Modification of medicines or prescription adjustments can easily happen through telemedicine initiatives and the elderly must use this platform for chronic medication prescription refilling."

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