Telemedicine, healthcare’s new frontier can speed up diagnosis and therapeutic care delivery and enables healthcare providers to receive continuous assistance from specialized centers.
Telemedicine is fast becoming the hottest trend in the global healthcare sector, with more than $1.7bn of capital raised by US companies in the last 12 months alone.
A sub-sector of telemedicine is the ability to treat non-emergency conditions through video, with principle benefits including improved access and convenience for patients, freeing-up of Emergency Room resources in hospitals, greater reach for private sector healthcare companies and significantly reduced claims and cost efficiencies for insurers. Faster internet connections and improved software now facilitates a far smoother video consultation than in the past. With the proliferation of smartphones across developed and emerging markets, patients can now conduct video consultations from nearly anywhere in the world.
When it comes to embracing such technologies, the healthcare sector in the GCC has significant catching up to do versus some of its international counterparts. A 2015 Deloitte study calculated there would be more than 100 million virtual doctor visits in North America by the end of 2016, with the potential existing for as many as 300 million visits a year by 2018. In the GCC there has been no officially recorded activity in this space.
Total healthcare spend in the GCC is predicted to reach US$60bn by 2025, up from US$12 billion (Source: McKinsey&Co’s 2015 ‘GCC Healthcare Report’). With annual outpatient visits in the UAE alone fast approaching 10 million per annum, the GCC health authorities would be well advised to look at US research claiming that more than 74% of doctor visits can successfully be treated by video rather than face-to-face (Source: PWC; ‘Healthcare Delivery of the Future’ 2015). No other region in the world faces such pressure on its healthcare resources, with residents unsatisfied with the availability and quality of hospitals, governments ill prepared for an aging population, and dangerous Type 2 diabetes and obesity figures.
With the proliferation of smartphones across developed and emerging markets, patients can now conduct video consultations from nearly anywhere in the world.
Over the next 20 years, treatment demand will rise in the GCC by 240% (McKinsey&Co). By 2025, demand for hospital beds will more than double, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE registering the largest increase.
While basic telemedicine is available in the UAE, there is nothing that incorporates video consultation or sophisticated app-based D2C healthcare. The mass adoption of video consultations for minor, non-emergency medical issues has had huge government benefits in the US, not least the reductions in healthcare cost, and an increase in the accessibility of healthcare, but also the increase in corporate efficiency by reducing the number of sick days taken. There is a misconception amongst some regional health authorities that patients cannot be effectively treated through video if they have not previously been seen face-to-face by the same doctor – but patients walking into an Emergency Room are not required to have had a prior appointment with the doctor. Such an approach goes against everything telemedicine stands for, and will not drive the efficiencies that telemedicine is specifically designed to create. Likewise, quality does not have to be compromised if the service is performed professionally.
There is no doubt that further education is required to encourage such a consumer/patient behavior change, but it must be remembered that video consultations are only applicable for a relatively small number of minor complaints (e.g. UTI, rashes, coughs, flu).
Technology has the ability to solve many of the issues facing the GCC healthcare sector and it is time for local health authorities to embrace this game-changing approach. The savior of urgent, non-emergency healthcare, really is video.