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On the front-line of remote healthcare

Remote areas have specific challenges when it comes to healthcare, which telemedicine addresses

With over 30% of people in the region currently living in rural areas and work-sites in remote locations, thousands of patients across the region do not have easy access to healthcare, even for the most common health conditions.

In particular, there are a number of challenges faced by rural communities including:

  • Distance from general physicians
  • Strong demand for existing services as the population continues to expand (UAE resident visits a clinic on average between 4 and 14 times a year)
  • Cultural factors, particularly among women and older people, in accessing healthcare
  • Lifestyle choices necessitated by living in remote locations
  • How empowered communities feel around their health and wellbeing
  • An often transient working population in isolated locations such as in the energy and petroleum sector

It’s therefore incumbent upon us all to seek innovative solutions to meeting these needs among our populations, in order to ensure healthy societies and prosperous economies.

Technology is a key component

Digital health, and in particular, mHealth, plays a major role in addressing some of these challenges; especially in non-emergency medicine, by enabling flexible, convenient and real-time access to physicians, empowering patients to take control of their own and their families’ health issues, and reducing the need to travel long distances to access healthcare. In recognition of its impact, by 2018, the telemedicine market globally is expected to grow by 14% with a 20 fold increase in the numbers of telemedicine users.

With over 85% of the population in the UAE having regular access to a smartphone, and as over 50% of medical conditions can be diagnosed over the phone, the environment is ripe for telemedicine to be at the front line of filling existing gaps. Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre, among others, has proven to be a particularly powerful and essential resource to remote communities with its 24/7, bi-lingual access to healthcare professionals for non-emergency conditions; and cutting-edge innovations such as the interactive patient app, TeleMed, which allows patients to share images with doctors and nurses in real time, thereby enhancing their experience.

Patients have their calls answered within 60 seconds and a full consultation takes place within 30 minutes of the initial call. Moreover, patients then receive a follow up call from a physician in the following days to ensure continuity of care over time – an important feature of our telemedicine service. In our experience, over 90% of patients have expressed satisfaction with conducting medical consultations over the phone, and to date over 1,700 different conditions have been diagnosed over the phone by our medical team, with a third of patients calling from rural and remote areas of the country.

The future for telemedicine in the region

Telemedicine is a crucial tool in widening access to care, and that is why we presented the strides made in digital health in the UAE this week at the inaugural Remote Healthcare Middle East conference. As telemedicine continues to gain acceptance and use in the region, we aim to continue to enhance our service with new technologies and widen our patient base to ensure we remain a trusted resource for our rural communities and beyond. We’re excited by the prospects of technology in increasing access to high quality healthcare, and in our continuing to benefit our communities.

Dr. Sameera Al Obeidli

Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre, Medical Director

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