Virtual care solutions such as telehealth, remote monitoring, and connected medical devices are becoming one of the big areas for growth in the GCC region during a webinar conducted by Omnia Health. According to a multi-centre study published recently in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare that evaluated more than 300,000 telehealth visits, researchers found that telehealth can be an effective alternative to in-person care for urgent and non-emergent needs without increasing downstream utilisation.
Today, an increasing number of healthcare providers are investing and ramping up their telemedicine capabilities to offer patients easy access to healthcare from the safety of their homes. An essential partner during this digital transformation is Etisalat Digital, a business unit of Etisalat that has worked closely with several healthcare providers in the UAE to support them in their mission to provide better patient care.
In an interview with Omnia Health Insights, Dr. Prateek Sardana, Lead Clinical Strategist, Digital Health, at Etisalat, explained how their telehealth solutions are bridging the gaps in continuity of care. Dr. Sardana, who has years of experience not only in clinical practice and health insurance sector but also large-scale implementation of telemedicine, said that in addition to cutting-edge technologies we must ensure patient safety and user-adoption to see the most of out of telehealth, and this has been a major focus for them.
While COVID-19 accelerated the growth in the utilisation of outpatient video consultations, healthcare providers and insurance payers are starting to include telehealth services as part of their broader strategy, which is promising to create sustenance in this field. He further emphasised that using telehealth technologies to bridge the gaps in care coordination, drawing insights from patient-generated health data to improve clinical outcomes for chronic diseases, and extending specialist services to satellite centres of primary care will have an immense impact on the quality of care in the near future.
Launching or implementing any technology requires a change in how business processes are tailored and whether the technology complements it. For instance, when COVID-19 hit, Etisalat Digital was instrumental in helping one of the leading healthcare providers in the UAE by implementing a virtual out-patient consultation platform within a short span of time. Almost immediately, the provider was able to cater to the needs of patients who were not able to visit the hospital due to travel restrictions or fear of stepping into a hospital environment and contracting the virus. The telehealth services were also scaled beyond urgent care and family medicine to include several other subspecialty areas such as surgery, medicine, dermatology, and paediatrics.
However, the success of technology implementation cannot be complete without widespread adoption by the intended users. Whilst adequate infrastructure, such as internet connectivity and hardware components, can be ensured within a hospital’s environment for seamless virtual consultation; on the patient’s side, who are connecting from home or elsewhere, it remains a challenge. Recognising this, Etisalat Digital has executed built-in tools within its virtual consultation platform that allow both patients and providers to assess the adequacy of basic infrastructure requirements thereby helping them avoid related issues in time. To further aid adoption, a team of design thinking experts within Etisalat called the Co-Creation Lab, helped design the user interfaces of the platform after seeking feedback from end-users (both doctor and patient groups) to warrant a friendly user experience. Etisalat’s telehealth platform supports modern interoperability standards such as HL7 and FHIR, which allows it to integrate with the hospital’s Electronic Health Record Systems to maintain data integrity and provide doctors a unified access channel. The virtual out-patient consultation platform from Etisalat combines technologies such as cloud computing, digital payment gateway, A2P SMS and Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS), which meet the functional requirements around an end-to-end teleconsultation.
Telehealth is gaining recognition as a means to not only improve access to care, but also reduce the risk of transmission of communicable diseases, conserve scarce medical supplies, and reduce strain on healthcare capacity and facilities whilst supporting continuity of care. Moreover, patients can save on travel costs, employers improve productivity at the workplace, and reduce carbon footprint. Examples that are emerging globally show the extension of telehealth technologies into a variety of settings of care across the health care continuum including acute care, health promotion and disease prevention, and chronic disease management. Keeping in line with this potential, Etisalat Digital has expanded its value proposition beyond out-patient consultations to include in-patient use-cases, home care and connecting satellite clinics with centres of excellence. The remote patient monitoring platform from Etisalat helps collect data in a continuous or intermittent basis from the day-to-day environment of patients where they spend most of their time and feel more natural, complementing the data collected in the doctor's office, to reveal a more holistic picture. This helps manage patients in the community, prevent exacerbations of chronic disease conditions, and improve health outcomes.
Dr. Sardana further added that they are extending telehealth features to Etisalat Digital’s Cloud EMR platform, enabling independent healthcare practices to offer remote medical services to their patient groups and find cost efficiencies in day-to-day operations.