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What is the UAE doing right with healthcare that the rest of the world can learn from?

Jan 24, 2017 - reading time 6 mins

By Callan Emery

Editor, Middle East Health magazine

 

Callan Emery is the editor of Dubai-based Middle East Health magazine. He has lived and worked as a healthcare journalist in the Middle East for more than a decade. He has traveled widely in the region visiting healthcare facilities and speaking to doctors to gain knowledge of healthcare practices and systems in the disparate countries of the Middle East. He has a special interest in healthcare technology and its rapid evolution.

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in a fortunate position when it comes to implementing innovative healthcare technology for the country’s population. 
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Firstly, the UAE has considerable wealth mainly from oil revenue; second, the population is relatively small, although growing fast and; third, starting from a so-called ‘green fields’ base of relatively undeveloped healthcare a few decades ago, it has been in a position to study best practice and the latest technology and implement it without being weighed down by outmoded ways of doing things and legacy technology systems.

 

This technological leap-frogging has enabled it to jump over several stages of technological development and move rapidly to implement the most modern state-of-the-art healthcare technology available. The main driving force of this has been the Government’s concern for the health and welfare of the people of the country. With sufficient wealth and a small and generally young population who are only too willing to adopt new technology, it has been able to do this with relative ease – and continues to do so.

 

So, it comes as little surprise that the country came out on top of Philips’ Future Health Index report published last year, which measures countries’ perception of accessibility and integration of healthcare systems and the adoption of connected healthcare. The UAE leads the other countries on the index by a significant margin due to positive views on the current state of integration throughout the health system and patient and healthcare professional readiness to adopt technology.

 

However, the UAE’s healthcare system is not without challenges. The region is dealing with a number of healthcare burdens – some the same as in many other parts of the world – like rising incidence of heart disease and cancer – and coping with them with innovative use of technology, partnerships and initiatives. The UAE is also tackling more unusual challenges, such as a high incidence of congenital diseases due the large number of consanguineous marriages, as well as an explosion in the prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome due a rapidly changing lifestyle to one that is more affluent and sedentary.

 

Over the past decade there have been numerous healthcare tech innovations that have been implemented at the national and local level. Tech innovation generally and in healthcare specifically is high on the agenda of the Rulers of the Emirates, who continue to encourage its development through various incentives, initiatives and public-private partnerships.

 

These are just a few examples:

Electronic health system

In 2008 the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH) launched ‘Wareed’, an electronic healthcare information system that virtually links all the MoH’s hospitals and clinics in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. The system provides a centralized platform to store patient data, which enables physicians’ quick access to a patient’s medical history and other critical information. Each patient in the system has a unique ID and can access their own medical records and use the system to connect with their doctor for an online consultation. Wareed has numerous advanced technological features, such as a decision support system for doctors, which significantly reduces medical errors, prevents medication prescription duplication and in many ways improves health safety and efficiency.

 

In Dubai recently, the telecoms company Du partnered with hospital group NMC Healthcare to implement the storage and sharing of Electronic Medical Records with the use of Blockchain technology. Still in the pilot phase, the technology is expected to bring data integrity, security and trust to the flow of patient information between the health providers and the patient. Du says this is part of the government’s vision to have all government documents in blockchain by 2020.

Prevention is better than cure

In Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates, the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has implemented a preventive health public service called the Weqaya Programme. This public health service recruited nearly all adult UAE Nationals living in the emirate into a health screening program enabling HAAD to rapidly extract data from the results of the screening for various whole population epidemiological studies. One of the most important studies emanating from this looks at the burden of non-communicable diseases in the emirate. This has enabled HAAD to quickly implement changes to health policy to tackle this burden. Through the Weqaya web portal individuals can check their health status and get proper follow-up consultations if they are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, for example.

24/7 telemedicine

Mubadala Development Company, an investment and development company owned and operated by the Government of Abu Dhabi, partnered with Swiss company Medgate to establish the Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre. The centre operates 24/7 and provides consulting by phone by a staff of general practitioners who are specially trained to practice telemedicine. In seeking a diagnosis, they use a series of questions applying the same medical methodology of elimination as in a hospital or clinic setting. The center has also developed a free mobile application, Telemed, to enable patients to send photos of an affected area of the body, of labels of medication they’re using, or any other photos that may assist in the diagnosis. The center has helped relieve local hospitals of the burden of being inundated with non-emergency cases. It is also cost efficient and convenient for the patient who can now be diagnosed and receive guidance on treatment while at home.

Patient engagement

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has also taken the initiative to get people connected with healthcare by launching a number of smartphone apps to encourage this, such as the ‘Tummy Fish’ App that encourages children to remember to drink water – an important initiative in the hot desert climate – and the ‘Smart Toothbrush’ app that teaches children how to brush their teeth correctly.

 

The DHA has also developed a smartphone app for doctors that enables easy access to the Rashid Medical Library’s collection of digital content, including multimedia, e-journals and electronic books on evidence-based medicine, pharmaceuticals and medical guidelines that can be used for reference and continuous medical education.

 

These types of initiatives that use technology to promote connected healthcare, on small and large scales, are being adopted rapidly by a generally young UAE population eager to show they are technologically advanced. With a growing awareness of the importance of taking care of their health, they’re finding this is an efficient and relatively simple way to improve their wellness.

 

One thing that all of these examples have in common is they demonstrate the important role that government has in implementing new technology into healthcare systems. As healthcare systems around the world work to overcome challenges of their own, they should keep an eye on developments coming out of the UAE and how the country continues to implement technologically connected healthcare that empowers doctors and patients and reduces growing pressure on the healthcare system.

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