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From an option to a preference, telehealth is here to stay

Article-From an option to a preference, telehealth is here to stay

Alvarez & Marsal’s Senior Director of Healthcare and Sciences Middle East, Dr. Sara Alom Ruiz, speaks about how the new normal has been shaped by a digital transformation.

Within healthcare, adaptation and innovation have played a pivotal role in continuing to provide and improve patient care during the pandemic. As the UAE telehealth market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25 percent per year from 2020 to an estimated* US$536.5 million (AED19.7 billion) by 2025, telehealth may become the next frontier to cope with public health crisis and a key pillar of post Covid-19 patient care. 

Alvarez & Marsal’s study analysed the pandemic’s role in accelerating a surge towards a smarter healthcare ecosystem and examined the trends and challenges which payers and providers can encounter. The study also reviewed significant health care model disruptors, evolving market opportunities, and policy/regulatory developments to discover that innovation and collaboration will drive future development.  

Co- authored by Karim Benhameurlaine, Managing Director and Head of Healthcare and Life Sciences Middle East with Alvarez & Marsal’s strategy and performance improvement, and Dr. Sara Alom Ruiz, Senior Director Healthcare and Life Sciences Middle East with Alvarez & Marsal Strategy and Performance Improvement group in Dubai; Despite several, simultaneous transformations in service delivery, healthcare organisations demonstrated resilience in enhancing their existing operating models, seeking digital health solutions, as well as provider consolidation, to generate economies of scale and vertical and horizontal development, according to the report.


Source: Alvarez & Marsal,

  1. Do you predict Covid-19 to leave a lasting impact on the telehealth market in the UAE?

COVID-19 has impacted industries at large. Pre pandemic, about only 5% of full-time office employees worked remotely and post pandemic, that percentage is expected to rise to about 20 to 30%. Reflecting on how we've been able to adapt to working remotely, it segways seamlessly into healthcare. If we look at the healthcare landscape pre pandemic, the use of telehealth was at its infancy, for a number of reasons, but the pandemic accelerated the use of telehealth out of need and necessity.

The regulatory frameworks have been supportive of that, as well as providers and reimbursements policy makers responding to that shift and need promptly. Currently, 91 percent of UAE insurers reported that their policyholders recently used some form of telehealth services, as opposed to 31 percent pre-pandemic, representing an increase of 60 percent as a result of the pandemic.

Now, post pandemic, some predict that the pendulum will swing back to more in person visits, but it definitely won't swing back to where it was pre pandemic. Patients have adapted to a new experience and healthcare providers have integrated telehealth. So will that go away? We don't think so, what we think is that hybrid models are likely to predominate the future of both telehealth and traditional healthcare models, with the choice ultimately with the patients.

  1. How will telehealth shed its reputation of being an important tool used to cope with a public health crisis? 

Primary care typically lends itself well to telehealth along with chronic disease management. Over 50 percent of expats in the UAE are likely to use telehealth for primary care, 14 percent more than global averages. In instance of patients seeking primary care, they receive the same level of care remotely, which may be a convenient option for them to consider. Within primary care, there is a broad range of specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry which have demonstrated effective care via virtual means.

Patients who suffer from chronic disease require regular follow up visits with their healthcare practitioner. In addition, remote care monitoring is also a key facet of patient care which aligns well with the telehealth. For chronic disease management, patients can be served for multiple needs such as endocrinology, gastroenterology, geriatric care, and pain management to name a few.  

Most importantly, we've seen a big improvement in patients receiving diagnostic services remotely which may be required within a typical consultation. The first consultation would be virtual and then subsequently, electronic prescriptions would be prescribed for delivery. In addition, phlebotomists and other healthcare professionals can visit patients to collect blood samples.

  1. Will telehealth be embraced as a regular pillar of healthcare?

Pre-pandemic we witnessed that telehealth was not widespread in the market, COVID-19 shifted virtual health into a higher gear. However, there are key aspects which determine its long-term viability. Quality and patient experience of the telehealth service rival in-person care. We discovered during tele consults that patients report the face-to-face factor as vital, to help establish empathy and trust similar to that achieved at the bedside.   

In a telehealth setting, a chronic disease patient who is accustomed to virtual consultations with their entrusted physician with knowledge of their case, would most likely continue rather than physically visit the facility every month. From a continuity of care perspective, if the quality of treatment and monitoring is akin to physical consults, it creates convenience for patients. However, we are in a progression period where solutions are being perfected to ensure that the patient experience is seamless. Therefore, factors such as integration of medical records, documentation of clinical services is crucial and ensures physician access to medical history, improving patient outcomes and safety.

One of the big aspects of telehealth is convenience, whether you save travel time or receive treatment at the comfort of your home. Training professionals to use evolving interfaces routinely is critical. Operations teams needs to be seamless with scheduling and embedding appointments in systems to ensure the time of a physician is adequately allocated between virtual and in person consults. All these factors play an important role in where telehealth becomes ‘commoditised’.

  1. What digital advancements are forecasted to grow in the UAE?

Within digital health we are seeing a wide stream adoption of different applications of AI from chat bots to appointments or scheduling, and even supplying medical information. Clinical applications that support clinical care have existed in the market and are advancing rapidly, particularly within imaging and robotics.   

Big data and predictive analytics are growing as well. With algorithms in place and complex analytics that help predict and warn patients and physicians of potential health risks and serious complications, is where the future of health care and not sick care, is heading towards. Other advancements, such as genome sequencing and precision medicine are paving the way to shift care towards more personalised and precise care. All these technological advancements are continuing to disrupt the way healthcare is rendered.

  1. How will these innovations impact the healthcare industry’s growth in the UAE? 

The number of hospitals in the UAE has been steadily growing year-on-year, at a rate of 6.2 percent per annum, leading to an increasingly competitive healthcare provider market. With the continued advancements of healthcare innovation, organizations that disrupt their existing healthcare offering will capitalise on diversifying from traditional revenue sources. Moreover, the interdependencies between all health sector stakeholders are continuously getting stronger, and along with the advancement of technologies to enable better care, ultimately poses a very positive future for patients and improved outcomes.


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