With technology increasingly dominating our lives, we often find ourselves trying to decipher a barrage of new buzzwords. One of these is ‘telehealth’. Not only does this term remain an enigma to most of us, but more significantly we are yet to figure out how to take advantage of its enormous and enabling implications that promise to transform our lives.
From healthcare advisory to virtual imaging and enabling CT scans to be reviewed remotely, through to patient diagnosis, videoconferencing and monitoring, we already have access to an arsenal of cutting-edge telehealth tools that could soon become integral aspects of a patient’s journey to good health.
In the most basic sense, telehealth or telemedicine is described as “the provision of healthcare remotely by means of telecommunications technology”. Given its considerable potential, it is no surprise that entrepreneurs in the U.A.E., and elsewhere in the world, are keen to tap into this global $4.5 billion market, riding the wave of the “connected care” revolution.
A recent report by Deloitte found that globally the uptake for telehealth is on the rise and that by 2018, 65% of interactions with healthcare facilities will occur via mobile devices. Some 80% of doctors already use smartphones and medical apps in the provision of healthcare. On paper, this seems like a marriage made in heaven.
So, on one hand, we have the innovators that continue to bring apps to the marketplace, and on the other we see healthcare providers and large corporates eager to use the most advanced platforms to improve their patient and customer experiences by offering healthcare services at the click of a button.
Encouragingly, at the same time, we also find ourselves becoming increasingly tech-savvy, enjoying unprecedented rates of internet penetration, which holds particularly true for Dubai where internet penetration rates are said to exceed 90%. This is further amplified by the fact that most of us not only own one, but two smartphones.
Given this bright prospect, why is it that we are still consulting our general practitioner for minor illnesses? Why are we still finding ourselves stuck in traffic on the way to hospital after work? Why are we still spending considerable time in Dubai’s immaculate waiting rooms?
The answer is simple. We are yet to hear about the path-breaking services that are out there.
Telehealth will continue to improve patient services across the board, and 2018 will most likely be the year when virtual doctors go mainstream. The proliferation of online health portals and mobile health apps will enable people to access medical advice from home or from the office through their laptops, tablets or smartphones. As technologies mature, patients will have the option to connect with a wide range of healthcare professionals without leaving the house. This will hopefully help increase early diagnosis of medical conditions, as people are less likely to procrastinate in contacting a virtual doctor than a real-life one.
This belief was reinvigorated recently when Dubai Science Park hosted one of its regular business partner breakfasts in partnership with in5, a startup incubator launched by TECOM Group, with the aim of bringing together stakeholders from the government, academia and industry to discuss the latest trends in life-science, energy and environment sectors.
Presenting at the event was Ahmad Al-Hidiq, co-founder of HeyDoc!, a Dubai-based and in5 incubated healthcare startup, offering a health communications platform that connects patients struggling with non-urgent health issues with doctors.
The startup founder, which facilitates online medical advisories for fees ranging between $20-$40 per advisory, noticed that patients have created informal communications channels with doctors and practitioners by phone, email or via WhatsApp messages for medical advice and to gain second opinions.
The app, which seeks to streamline these channels through a communications platform, allows patients to share content across text messages, images, voice and video notes with qualified doctors all over the world. The results are impressive. The startup found that 78% of queries could be solved without the patient ever stepping into a practitioner’s office or a hospital. Unsurprisingly, the startup has a global focus and is transferable to all geographies, allowing doctors and users from around the world to connect with one another.
Ensuring a global reach as a telehealth provider makes perfect sense when looking at the numbers. Dubai Health Authority estimates that the worldwide revenue for telehealth devices and services will reach the $4.5 billion mark in 2018, and the number of patients using these services will rise to seven million—with millennials leading the charge.
The benefits of increasing our adoption of telemedicine across the healthcare spectrum are clear. Patients now can have instant access to specialised consultations and subject matter experts. It reduces costs for hospitals and insurers, saves travel time, increases patient satisfaction and reduces the overall healthcare burden on the government and employers. And, this is still only the beginning.
Dubai is fostering an environment that is conducive to business growth and enables startups to flourish and maximise their potential at every stage of their life cycle. As the number of telehealth startups increases, Dubai and the U.A.E can join the global conversation on telehealth.