Dubai: Is telemedicine cheaper than in-person doctor visits as virtual medical consultations gain popularity?

With the help of new smartphone apps, chronic disease patients can also be monitored and checked remotely


Waheed Abbas

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Published: Sun 30 Apr 2023, 11:16 AM

Last updated: Sun 30 Apr 2023, 7:20 PM

Telemedicine consultations are gaining significant popularity in the UAE, which came into prominence among the residents particularly during the pandemic, as they offer a more cost-effective alternative to in-person doctor visits.

Healthcare service providers in the UAE said people in the UAE use teleconsultation mainly for minor health issues such as cough and slight fever, chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension and foreigners seeking second opinions during their visit to the country. According to Dubai Health Authority (DHA), currently, around 129 facilities provide telemedicine or telehealth services in the emirate.

As reported by Khaleej Times earlier, health facilities in Dubai provided more than 300,000 telemedicine consultations in 2022. Statistics released by the DHA have shown that telehealth services registered an increase of 24 per cent in the emirate last year as compared to 2021.

Thumbay University Hospital recorded an almost 22 per cent increase in video consultations, and they have been more economical for patients because there were no nursing charges and other expenses that are combined for in-person visits, said Akbar Moideen Thumbay, vice –president, Thumbay Healthcare Division.

Akbar Moideen Thumbay
Akbar Moideen Thumbay

“It has helped in the expansion of integrated services, like in-house lab testing and medicines delivered to their doors. On the whole, telemedicine services provided convenience, time-efficient and cost-saving healthcare to remote populations and also led the scope of development in virtual healthcare services for providers,” he said.

Brandon Rowberry, CEO - Digital Health, Aster DM Healthcare, said telemedicine is more economical because there are no some overheads costs o clinics or hospitals.

Brandon Rowberry
Brandon Rowberry

”Some doctors now offer only virtual consultation. And in that case, there is at least a 20 per cent savings because that doctor may not be sitting in a clinic or hospital. So there’re no overhead costs that would come with that kind of space. They may be sitting in a centre where they're pooled together. It's even possible that doctor might be taking those calls from home, depending on the regulations of the geography that they're in,” he said.

Thanks to new apps in smartphones, he said, chronic disease patients can also be monitored and checked through teleconsultation.

Telemedicine is here to stay

Dr Jamil Ahmed, founder and managing director, Prime Health Care Group, said telemedicine is super economical as it is time-saving as patients need not step out of their homes and waste precious time in travel as appointments are streamlined very professionally and there is no time wastage in queues.

Dr Jamil Ahmed
Dr Jamil Ahmed

“In terms of money and finances, the government has laid out very reasonable rates that hospitals can charge. The patient saves on hospital registration fees, resources such as manpower, waiting area capacity, electricity, water, consumables etc. It is a win-win for everyone as the patient gets exclusive, no-stress attention from his doctor, his diagnostic details, medicine prescriptions and reports are all streamlined, saved as an electronic medical record accessible at the click of a button to the doctor.”

However, he added that in-person visitation cannot be avoided in many cases, especially in emergencies, or patients who require physical monitoring of their condition. However, in many cases where the condition is chronic, and symptoms are clinical, the patient can consult virtually.

He said the successful telemedicine service is here to stay, primarily because it is sustainable on every level in the modern context.

Mostly general practitioners

Brandon Rowberry of Aster DM Healthcare said teleconsulting has a number of use cases and the first one is people seeking consultation for their kids as they don’t want to visit a hospital for more mild things.

“Most teleconsultations are either immediate or booked very, very soon. One of the great things is that people don't have to travel far and don’t have to take a day off as they can do it in the middle of the night. The vast majority – 80-85 per cent – of teleconsultations are done with just general practitioner doctors and not specialists. But now teleconsultation is available with specialists as well, but those are used much more infrequent,” he said.

In addition, he said telemedicine is used for chronic diseases that people need to see their doctor regularly but may not need there physically.

“The third use case would be distance. For example, people want to see a second opinion from a doctor for something, what we call medical tourism or people are coming from another geography. But that's a much lower utilization case.”

Rowberry added that it is rare that doctors ask people to visit the hospital physically as most of the time the person can just be taken care of over the phone or Zoom meetings.

“However, in some cases, the doctor may ask to see the patients in-person for the symptoms that he or she is talking about may be more serious than they think and they would be referred directly to a doctor at the hospital and clinic that could take care of them,” he added.

Dr Kiran Kumar
Dr Kiran Kumar

Types of teleconsultations

Dr Kiran Kumar, head of Internal Medicine Division, Thumbay University Hospital, defined two ways in which telemedicines can work:

Video conferencing: This allows the provider to see and hear the patient as well as assess their symptoms and provide advice. The doctor can prescribe tests, wherein the patient can avail home-testing lab services and subsequently even get their medicines delivered to their door.

Remote monitoring: Patients can use wearable devices or sensors to collect health data, such as blood pressure, heart rate, or glucose levels, which can then be transmitted to their healthcare provider for analysis and monitoring.

During the pandemic, the hospital offered follow-up for tele-consultations for Covid-19 patients.

“In addition, these services have gained popularity because of the diligent guidelines laid down by the government for healthcare entities, which has enabled effective transition and adoption of these telehealth services.”


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