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Reducing the burden on the UAE healthcare system with home care services

Home care has come to the fore to help patients with chronic diseases and other urgent medical needs.

Home care, also referred to as domiciliary care, social care, or in-home care, is medical treatment provided at home by licensed healthcare professionals. With most healthcare services, such as elective surgeries in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspended to accommodate COVID-19 patients, home healthcare field has come to the fore to help patients with chronic diseases and other urgent medical needs.

Omnia Health Insights spoke to Mohamed Khalaf, Director – Transformational Health Practice, Frost & Sullivan, Middle East, to get his take on what is driving the home care services market in the UAE.

How has home care become an essential strategy to face COVID-19 and similar future crises?

There is increased awareness amongst patients and their families, and initiatives by public and private sectors developed over a short time have contributed to this. Post-COVID-19, it is expected that the dependence on home care through both public and private sectors will increase. This will further be aided by the current technological advances, such as 5G, ERP systems, unified medical records and digital platforms, promoting an enhanced environment for home care delivery.

It is essential, however, to have a comprehensive national corporate governance system in place to establish policies and guidelines to organise service delivery with an appropriate financing mechanism while protecting patients’ records. The workforce will play an essential role during the execution phase; training will be crucial to ensure a complete understanding of the social care requirements and development of family support.

What is the current state of home care services in the UAE?

The current home care utilisation in the UAE is low compared to other countries. This is mainly due to the nature of the population in the country, where the elderly (people aged 65 and older) make up a low percentage in comparison to other Eastern countries. Further, expats account for 90 per cent of the population, and they prefer to perform major surgeries and post-acute rehabilitation in their home countries.

Long-term care and chronic patients are the focus of the healthcare authorities in the UAE over the past decade. There have been more service provisions at home for patients under the eligibility criteria and certain conditions allowing long-term care patients to receive proper care at home. However, in 2019, there were more than 25 million outpatient visits and ~800,000 in-patients who received care within a hospital. Post-COVID-19, we expect to see a gradual transfer of these patients from a hospital set up to home care to ensure effective delivery of care to citizens in the UAE.

What is the future of home care services in the country?

Post-COVID-19, the healthcare system is expected to witness significant changes, with more reliance on digital infrastructure. Digital transformation allows the delivery of care through seamless processes. Establishing comprehensive, virtual home care requires major foundations and infrastructure, including a digital platform, healthcare protocol, policies, guidelines, financing and monitoring. This will allow healthcare services to incorporate virtual care and connected homes.

However, certain concerns related to security threats, privacy breaches, rapid technological changes, and interoperability will need to be addressed or we may see delays and an increase in the cost of digital transformation in the UAE.

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