Dial a doctor: Why more Dubai residents are opting for telemedicine, remote diagnosis in emirate

Telehealth services up by 24%; how virtual consultations have evolved from fax to app

by

Sahim Salim

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Published: Thu 27 Apr 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 27 Apr 2023, 1:37 PM

Health facilities in Dubai provided more than 300,000 telemedicine consultations in 2022, Khaleej Times can reveal. Statistics released by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have shown that telehealth services registered an increase of 24 per cent in the emirate last year as compared to 2021.

Telehealth or telemedicine services are those offered without a patient visiting a clinic or hospital. Check-ups and medical prescriptions are done via laptops or phones.


Dr Marwan Al Mulla, CEO of the Health Regulation Sector at the DHA, said telehealth services can be provided for consultation, remote diagnosis, remote monitoring, providing and dispensing medical prescriptions, as well as patient follow-up services.

According to the DHA, the satisfaction rate of customers using telehealth services reached 92 per cent. Telemedicine service providers registered a 96 per cent satisfaction rate.


Dr Marwan said 129 facilities offer telemedicine services in Dubai. These vary from standalone centres to health facilities providing telemedicine as an add-on service.

The DHA has a telemedicine regulatory framework which is a “comprehensive set of protocols and processes any telemedicine provider has to abide by.” Providers must ensure confidentiality and data preservation while offering the service.

Dr Marwan said the regulations issued by the authority are an “effective tool in light of the digital and qualitative transformation” the sector is witnessing.

Evolution of virtual consultations

Some Dubai hospitals have been offering telemedicine services since as early as 2008. High-risk heart patients were able to stay in touch with their health providers virtually and alert them in case of emergencies.

Back then, patient data was recorded and transmitted via landline/mobile telephones through an event recorder. The data was then processed and immediately relayed via email/fax to the healthcare professional.

Fast-forward to 2023, the service is offered via apps. Most major healthcare providers in Dubai have virtual consultation facilities. In 2019, the DHA had launched a 'Doctor for Every Citizen' initiative, which allows Emiratis to virtually consult a physician and access medical services anytime, anywhere.

Brandon Rowberry, CEO - Digital Health, Aster DM Healthcare, said it's very easy to book an appointment with a doctor through an app or website and “use your phone/computer to discuss your health needs”.

He said tele-consultations saw a huge spike in usage during the Covid-19 pandemic since people could not physically make it to a hospital or clinic. “Even now, we still see millions of tele-consultations happening every day around the world.”

According to Dr Areej Al Khalil, specialist in Family Medicine at the Saudi German Hospital, telemedicine has effectively complemented direct patient visitations over the last three years.

“During the pandemic years, telemedicine was very effective in helping my patients reach out to me through the digital platform. The government acted swiftly to implement telemedicine protocols and facilitate doctor-patient communication,” she said. “It was especially effective in cases where elderly patients were unable to visit me owing to age-related inconveniences in travelling, and in cases of children who required consultation where mothers were unable to come in person.”

She detailed areas where it can be used. “Telemedicine can be useful in streamlining consultations in case of non-emergency cases or with patients with chronic conditions already in consultation with their doctors. Such patients can actually combine tele-medicine with in-person visitations for efficient and optimal use of time.”

Earlier this year, a Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap) official had announced that it would launch a new legislation by the end of 2023, making it mandatory for medical facilities to offer at least one remote health service. These include basic comprehensive medical consultations, medicine prescriptions, vital signs monitoring and surgical operations using robots.

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