The dawn of digital health in the Middle East
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The dawn of digital health in the Middle East

The dawn of digital health in the Middle East

Digitalisation can either replace human input totally or just facilitate or help a human to do a job easily and efficiently

digital health

“Digitalisation” is a commonly used word nowadays which simply means applying digital technologies to a process that used to be done manually or traditionally. For example, using a chatbot that auto-replies to people’s queries in a personalised way and gives them instructions to help them and solve their problems; it is actually replacing customer service call centres. Digitalisation can either replace human input totally or just facilitate or help a human to do a job easily and efficiently.

So, what exactly is digital health?
According to the FDA, digital health is using computing platforms, connectivity, software and sensors for health care and related fields. These technologies span a wide range of applications, from general wellness to medical devices.

What is the scope of digital health?
The broad scope of digital health includes categories such as:
Telehealth: This refers to remote clinical services (telemedicine) as well as non-clinical services, such as HCP (healthcare professional) training, administrative meetings, and CME (continuing medical education).

Mobile health (mHealth): Medical and public health practices supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants and other wireless devices. It also includes wearable devices that can be incorporated into clothing or worn on the body as accessories such as smart rings and wristbands to track heart rate and activity for health and wellness purposes.

Online pharmacy: online ordering and delivery of pharmaceutical products enabled by e-prescriptions. Health information technology involves the processing, storage and exchange of health information in an electronic environment. We can say that technology and digitalisation have penetrated all aspects of healthcare to support patients, caregivers, and normal people who are looking to improve their health and wellness.

Why should the Middle East adopt digital health?
The Middle East population is estimated to exceed 411 million people with an internet penetration of 67.2 per cent, which is relatively high compared to the global average of 62.5 per cent. It is worth mentioning that UAE has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world as it reaches 99 per cent and a smartphone penetration rate of 97.6 per cent.

In a recent report published by McKinsey & Company, it estimated the combined digital health market of Saudi Arabia and the UAE will reach $4bn by 2026. It also revealed elevated levels of interest and awareness in digital health technologies. Based on its findings, they concluded that the UAE and Saudi Arabia could use digital health solutions to benefit patients and improve outcomes in areas including chronic-disease management, diagnostics and preventative care.

Key findings
Awareness of established digital health solutions like e-pharmacy and teleconsultations is high.
User retention is high for existing digital health solutions.
Consumers primarily value the convenience and time savings provided by digital-health solutions.
Most non-users are interested in trying wellness applications and online pharmacies.

Benefits of digitalisation in healthcare
A better experience for patients and caregivers
Enhances data collection and storage
Saves time and effort
Improves communication
Provides higher efficiency
Minimises or eliminates mistakes
Decreases cost

Regional use cases
If we look for an example of digital health implementation in the Middle East, UAE is surely a perfect one. The country has taken solid steps in telemedicine where you can get consultations from a virtual doctor, as well as international telemedicine services. Online booking for doctor’s appointments is also available where you can book, modify or cancel an appointment at any of the primary healthcare centres and hospitals of “The Ministry of Health and Prevention” through apps and portals.

An example of those portals is Shefaa which is a smart platform, running under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health and Prevention and controlled by Emirates Health Services, where you can save your medical records, prescriptions, vaccines and allergies. Moreover, you can book appointments, request medical reports, track all your medical wearable statistics such as body mass index, total calories burnt, number of daily steps and walked distance, heart rate, blood pressure and glucose level in blood.

Meanwhile, Qatar also has implemented digital health on a strategic level via QNeDP (​​​​​​​​​​​Qatar National E-Health & Data Program) which had different components such as: Health Information Infrastructure that collects digital health resources, including people, technologies and national services, required to support the collection and sharing of health information. Electronic medical records that digitise health data at the care delivery points of services Population Health Systems which monitor population-level health matters such as non-contagious and contagious disease management, outbreak detection, and immunisation management.

We look forward to seeing more adoption of digital health in the Middle East. A lot of opportunities are present for both governmental and business sectors that would make the region a better place.

Read: SEHA and Israel’s leading HMO announce collaboration in research and digital health development

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