Telehealth is a gateway to how healthcare will be delivered in the future and has enabled the transition to consumer-centric care paradigms. Because of the need to create social distancing in a safe environment and the introduction of reimbursement for virtual visits, telehealth has become an important communication and treatment tool during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Telehealth involves the use of communication systems and networks to enable either a synchronous or asynchronous session between the patient and the provider. A virtual care solution usually involves a much broader scope of clinical and work-flow processes, remote monitoring, and several providers over time. Although there is not a universal agreement, telemedicine generally refers to the remote delivery of medical or clinical services, while telehealth is a larger platform that includes telemedicine along with remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services. Virtual care extends the options to manage the patient well beyond a specific event.
Figure 1 shows the benefits of Telehealth to different stakeholders in the healthcare industry.
Technology has become mainstream with more than 50 per cent of hospitals in the UAE using various IoT-based solutions; approximately 90 per cent of doctors use smartphones and medical apps to provide healthcare. The UAE government supports the establishment of a telematics infrastructure and the advancement of telemedicine applications with the aim of country-wide provision of healthcare services in the long term through various initiatives. The UAE has several companies offering teleconsultations from independent telemedicine companies to health insurers. Global and regional private players offering telehealth services have opted to take the B2B and B2G route.
Access to telehealth has broken a major barrier of adoption with an increase in reimbursement due to COVID-19 outbreak. Mandatory health insurance and rise in penetration of private health insurance players covering telemedicine services are driving the adoption. However, the lack of federal guidelines in the UAE act as a barrier for the telehealth players to expand their services to all the emirates due to different regulatory requirements. Thus, the concentration is seen in major cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In March 2020, UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) had collaborated with Du, a telecom company, for setting up the first virtual hospital in the middle east for providing remote care to patients. In July 2020, UAE's Mulk Healthcare launched the first "e-hospital" as a downloadable app for providing global medical services.
In May 2020, UAE's MoHAP upgraded all its hospitals' outpatients' clinics to virtual. Many leading public and private hospitals in the UAE established their virtual clinics such as Aster DM Virtual Outpatient Department (OPD) and TruDoc 24x7's Health & Wellness Virtual Clinic.
Because the UAE boasts of a population which is younger, in fact, 85 per cent of the total population is below the age of 45 years, the use of mobile technology, laptops and tablets have over 90 per cent penetration in the region, which has made it very easy for the UAE to implement telehealth. The utilisation of teleconsultations has increased multi-fold during COVID-19. For example, Al Jalila Children's Speciality Hospital in the UAE did 75 per cent of their consultations through the telehealth service during the first three months of the pandemic.
The UAE’s major telemedicine player Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre's services provide access to Medgate trained physicians to approx. 1.2 million Daman Enhanced and Thiqa cardholders in the country. There are many private players providing telehealth services such as Health at Hand, TruDoc 24x7 and InstaPract.
Market size and revenues
The Telehealth market in UAE is forecast to reach over US$536.5 million by 2025, expanding at a CAGR of 25 per cent from 2020 to 2025. The highest growing segment within telehealth will be virtual visit market, which is expected to grow from US$73.5 million in 2020 to US$280.7 million by 2025, representing a CAGR of 30.7 per cent. Virtual visit providers are gaining traction as employer health plans have started offering these services as a member benefit. The health plans generally fund these services on a per-member-per-month basis.
The total UAE mHealth market is forecast to grow from US$86.8 million in 2020 to US$222.4 million by 2025., representing a healthy CAGR of 20.7 per cent. mHealth growth will be stimulated by increased utilisation of smartphones, tablets, wearables, and medical-grade apps. Government initiatives for radical change in healthcare is seeing a shift in focus from treatment to prevention through remote preventive care, virtual hospitals, and other technologies.
The overall remote patient monitoring (RPM) market is forecast to grow from US$15.5 million in 2020 to reach US$37.1 million by 2025, representing a CAGR of 16.7 per cent. The RPM market in UAE remains unexplored due to the higher percentage of young population, and with 90 per cent of the population being expats who settle back to their original countries at retirement age. The demand for RPM devices will see traction due to the upcoming virtual hospital and clinics.
Virtual clinics and hospitals to strengthen Telehealth system for efficient remote care
When building a digital front door, too many organisations are simply replacing a patient's analogue experience—like calling to schedule an appointment—with a digital one. But digital replacement is not digital transformation. Patient experience and patient engagement is becoming critical and hence the work in the future will be to create an infrastructure and platforms that allow for seamless and holistic care across different care settings.