Telehealth is the future but more needs to be done: Experts
First phase allows doctors in Dubai to be connected remotely as part of the project's test run.
Published: Sat 4 May 2019, 8:40 PM
Last updated: Sat 4 May 2019, 10:44 PM
Technology has been allowing people to do a lot of things remotely, but when it comes to healthcare, there remains a need to develop better diagnostic capabilities to reap its benefits, experts have said.
At the end of 2017, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) announced a pilot project that has been paving the way for telemedicine - or remote treatment - in the emirate.
A regulatory framework for telemedicine has been completed and, in the future, helpline numbers will be available for people to make medical queries under the DHA's ongoing roll-out of policies and plans across different specialities, all of which are part of its 2016-2021 strategy.
"Doctors will address their queries; direct them to specialised consultation; advise whether they need to visit the ER; and even book appointments for them, based on their condition," said Dr Mohammad Al Redha, director of the DHA's Office of Organisational Transformation.
The first phase allows doctors in Dubai to be connected remotely as part of the project's test run.
Dr Immanuel Azaad Moonesar, assistant professor for health policy at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government, said insurers need to develop better remote diagnostic capabilities to leverage the full potential of telemedicine.
He was presenting an overview on the 'Trends on Insurance Coverage for the Telehealth Sector' at the recently held Healthcare Insurance Forum.
In the Eastern Mediterranean region, only 10 to 15 per cent of countries have telemedicine policies, regulations and initiatives.
Insurers are increasingly offering remote consultation services to their members through telemedicine, thus helping reduce in-patient visits.
"Telemedicine enables cost savings for insurers and provides users with convenient healthcare access from anywhere and at any time. It allows them to get in touch with physicians through video consultations on their mobile phones and tablets," said Dr Moonesar.
Through remote consultations, patients will be able to avoid travel expenses and all other costs associated with a trip to the doctor's office.
For those who live in inaccessible areas, access to quality healthcare will no longer be a problem.
"It is also being used for behavioural health services and providing care to members with chronic, non-communicable lifestyle diseases," the doctor said.
"In order to sustain and succeed in the health insurance landscape of the future, insurers need to equip themselves with certain attributes and capabilities, such as real-time actionable insights generation, intelligent fraud detection and prevention, cognitive documents processing, etc."
Constantly evolving science
Telemedicine, in its modern form, started in the 1960s - mainly driven by the military and space technology sectors, along with a few individuals who are using readily available commercial equipment.
"In plain and simple language, its many definitions highlight that telemedicine is an open and constantly evolving science, as it incorporates new advancements in technology and responds and adapts to the changing health needs and contexts of societies," he said.
Four elements are relevant to telemedicine: Its purpose to provide clinical support; its intention to overcome geographical barriers, connecting users who are not in the same physical location; the involvement and use of various types of ICT; and the main goal to improve health outcomes.
Today, global adoption of telemedicine is growing, with the market projected to reach $48.9 billion in value by the end of 2021. Telemedicine is currently implemented in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and the UAE.