When we talk about healthcare and technology, clinical care is often the focus. But there’s another part of the industry with much to gain from technology: the health retail market. It’s predicted to generate more than Dhs103bn by 2021.
From pharmaceuticals to cosmeceuticals, alternative medicine and telemedicine, the healthcare retail market is big business. And increased use of technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), is likely to further streamline prescription supply, telemedicine and alternative medicine provision.
By improving the accessibility of these products, our healthcare market is well-positioned for growth. Here we present where the new opportunities lie.
Automation of prescriptions will make life easier for patients and save time and resources, leading to cost-savings and increased take-up of prescription collection.
While robot-run pharmacies may have sounded like science fiction a mere 10 years ago, today they’re a reality. Prescription-dispensing robots first hit our region in January 2017 when the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) opened a smart pharmacy in two UAE hospitals, and more and more are expected to crop up in the future.
With each robot able to store up to 35,000 medicines and dispense 12 prescriptions in less than a minute, the appeal is clear. Customers can enjoy shorter waiting times for prescription collections. And as robots dispense prescribed medication based on a barcode scan, the risk of human error is minimised.
The economic benefits continue. By using a robot to dispense medication, pharmacists are freed up to advise customers on how to take their medications – further reducing costs associated with the adverse reactions or poor treatment outcomes.
The robots also have the ability to digitally download and store prescriptions as soon as the prescribing doctor issues a digital script – further increasing efficiency and cutting costs associated with lost and stolen prescription forms.
These automated pharmacies should save the healthcare industry a lot of money while increasing the overall quality of care.
Tackling barriers to prescription uptake
Online ordering and home delivery of prescriptions will help those who lack mobility, transportation or time to obtain their medication – while increasing sales and reducing medical waste.
Limited access to a pharmacy is a notable barrier to prescription uptake in the UAE. Busy working professionals, house-bound individuals and those with no access to transport often forgo the medication they need.
Pharmacies in the region are increasingly recognising this problem and the UAE’s first pharmacy app was launched this year. The digital service allows patients to upload their prescriptions and have their medications delivered to them for free in under one hour.
It’s a landmark event that’s likely to encourage more app developers to follow suit – making an online prescription collection a widespread practice throughout the UAE in coming years.
This spells good news for our healthcare industry. It will allow individuals to receive the treatment they need while preventing the loss of revenue that arises from the failure of patients to request and collect essential medication.
The rise in popularity of telemedicine
Telemedicine services will provide public access to medical professionals 24/7, increasing the quality of care available while creating a new revenue stream and potential boost in jobs.
Just as time and mobility constraints prevent many from picking up prescriptions, these same factors also stop individuals from accessing medical attention. Fortunately, telemedicine is gathering momentum in our region, with the likes of Ver2 Digital Medicine, the DHA’s RoboDoc service and Health at Hand all recently launching new telemedicine services.
Their apps and dial-in services allow members of the public to have text-, audio- or video-based consultations with a medical professional from the comfort of their own home. And hot on their tails is Dubai-founded telemedicine platform Smart Seha, which is expected to launch in late 2018.
With telemedicine platforms charging patients for remote consultations, not only are they helping to boost our healthcare economy, they’re also helping the population to become better engaged.
Advanced technology is rapidly changing healthcare
Today’s healthcare industry may be unrecognisable in the future, as we bring greater benefits to people and companies.
Clinic consultations using AI, automated patient diagnosis and remote robot-assisted surgery may well be a big focus of current discussions about how advanced technology can transform our healthcare industry, but the pharmaceutical and health retail markets should not be overlooked. Both already make sizeable contributions to our economy.
Smartphone-based apps, AI software and online services permit current barriers to healthcare retail uptake to be removed, making buying health products and pharmaceuticals a hassle-free process for busy, immobile or remotely-located individuals.
Technology is changing the UAE’s healthcare retail market and this spells good news for businesses in the health sector and our economy.
Dr Thumbay Moideen is the founder and president of Thumbay Group Board