Telemedicine in the UAE | All You Need to Know

/ Doc' A Talk

Telemedicine dates back to 50 years ago when doctors started experimenting with it to reach out to patients in remote locations through telephone and radio. It has grown ever since and in today’s era of virtual communication and high-speed internet access, telemedicine is becoming a must-have for doctors, clinics, and hospitals. This convenient tool for healthcare has become even more of a necessity amidst the COVID-19 outbreak with the lockdown, social distancing, and self-isolation practices intact.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine refers to using telecommunication technology to help healthcare professionals evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients. The proliferation of advanced technology has allowed doctors to video and audio call patients and cure them effectively.

What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?

These terms are often used interchangeably but they represent two different aspects. Telemedicine is, in fact, a subsidiary of telehealth. According to eVisit, “Telehealth may involve more general health services, like public health services, whereas telemedicine is a specific kind of telehealth that involves a clinician providing some kind of medical services.”

What benefits does it offer for the patients from telemedicine?

·        Lets patients interact and consult doctors from the comfort of their homes.

·        No transportation time or cost.

·        No need to take time off work.

·        Less chance of contacting any new illness or coming in contact with an infected person.

·        No time spent in the waiting room.

·        Access to doctors, regardless of the location.

·        Prescription refills without visiting the clinic.

·        Reduced healthcare costs.

·        Better health due to ease of talking to the doctor at any time.

What benefits does it offer for the providers of telemedicine?

·         Expands access to care and reaches more patients around the globe.

·         Offers video, audio, and chat consultations for patients without them having come in.

·         Reduces patient no-shows.

·         Increases clinical workflow efficiency.

·         Allows online payments.

·        Enables communication and advice with different specialists across the world.

·        Makes follow-ups much easier.

·        Remote analysis and monitoring services help reduce costs and increase healthcare savings.

·        A flexible work-from-home model can be followed.

·        Patients can be referred to top specialists, regardless of their location.

·        Real-time urgent care consultations can be done.

·        The staff can be decreased because using telemedicine a nurse can monitor many patients at once.

·        Fewer missed appointments and cancellations.

An elderly patient talking to his doctor from the ease of his home.

Are there any cons to using telemedicine as a mode of treatment?

Though the benefits outweigh the cons, there can be some obstacles that the individuals may have to initially deal with:

·         Technical training and equipment is required.

·         Unless the patient’s records are saved, there is reduced care continuity since the current healthcare provider might not have access to the patient’s medical history.

·         An adequate amount of people still prefer in-person consultations and physical exams cannot be done through telemedicine.

·         The healthcare laws, reimbursement policies, and privacy protection rules can be tricky and need to be thoroughly understood.

What does the future hold for telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the future. It is a billion-dollar industry and whilst there are some restrictions, it is becoming a necessity for healthcare providers across the world. It is a booming healthcare aspect that is expected to massively grow in the future.

As per Health Care IT News, the UAE’s ministry of health is working with one of the top telecom operators to set up the region’s first virtual hospital. It will reportedly be the ‘world’s first facility dedicated to telehealth.’ Its aim will be to provide convenient care for patients from the comfort of their homes, save healthcare costs, have the best possible treatment available, and dissolve geographical barriers.

What are the rules and regulations for telemedicine in the UAE?

In September 2019 DHA issued ‘standards’ for telehealth in the UAE, hence setting a benchmark for high-quality care and protection of patient data. The details can be read here. The downloadable PDF is divided into contents exploring the various aspects of telehealth (teleconsultation, telediagnosis, telemonitoring, mobile health, telebotics, and telepharmacy.) It further discusses licensing and applicability. It is mandatory for clinics, doctors, and hospitals to go through the issued document.

How can doctors incline the patient to book video consultations with them?

In order to ease the patient into the process, the healthcare providers can offer a ‘free first’ healthcare consultation. Other attributes such as a 50% off, extra talking minutes, and family check-up vouchers can also be added. Dubai-based private healthcare entities, Aster DM Healthcare and HealthHub by Al-Futtaim have introduced their own video consultations to help the public during restricted movement. In the long-term it is expected to become a paid service. However, the patients are still adapting to telemedicine.

Fact 1: According to the UAE telehealth study of 2018, 54% of individuals never change their doctors. If they cannot book an appointment with them, they tend to wait even if health is deteriorating. Telemedicine platforms can help eliminate that problem.

Fact 2: 78% of UAE residents said that they are not only keen to use telemedicine platforms, but they will prefer that over the traditional method of having to visit the doctor.

Fact 3: Previously, prescribing over-the-counter drugs was forbidden by DHA, through video consultations but now telehealth practitioners can prescribe medication following a video consultation. (With the exception of narcotics, controlled and semi-controlled drugs.)

Fact 4: In order to get a sick leave from work or school, individuals need to have an attested sick leave certificate by the DHA. Telemedicine has made this relatively easier because instead of going to the clinic when the person needs to be resting, after a video consultation with a specialist, the certificate can be issued online.

Health At Hand predicts that in the future there will be telehealth booths popping up in Dubai for easy-on-site access care.

According to Forbes, artificial intelligence and the rapidly progressing technology has ensured that adaption to telemedicine is going to be vital in the upcoming years.

Recommended read: How to Prepare Your Clinic for Telemedicine in the UAE


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