We all know how technology is making it easier to predict, prevent and treat illnesses, but what if we had an entire hospital at our fingertips, with doctors and expert care right in the comfort of our homes? Well, the day is not far off when virtual hospitals will be a reality, with quality care no longer the privilege of a few. In fact, virtual hospitals are all set to redefine healthcare, leveraging diagnostics, therapeutics and monitoring for the best outcome.
Traditional vs Virtual
A traditional hospital is a brick and mortar building with beds, equipment, patients, caregivers and doctors. A virtual hospital, on the other hand, is a brick and mortar building with doctors and care givers-but no beds or patients. Not to be confused with telemedicine, a virtual hospital is a platform that brings together various aspects of healthcare like telemedicine, robotics, remote surgery etc, to provide a smooth and seamless experience for patients. For the UAE which is already experimenting with robotics and automation, virtual hospitals are the next best thing in establishing a global hospital ecosystem with the help of cutting edge technology.
How does it work?
Virtual hospitals provide remote care to patients in faraway locations through sensors and AI devices. These allow doctors to see their patients as well as patient data in real time and offer diagnosis and treatment options. While telemedicine helps doctors and patients track and monitor diseases and conditions, virtual hospitals, when fully operational, will help patients take better charge of their health. Say, for instance, a person experiences sudden dizziness or shortness of breath. Whereas in a physical hospital he would be required to get there himself, wasting time commuting and checking in, a virtual hospital lets him alert the right specialist, anywhere in the world, about his condition, at the press of a button, to get an expert opinion and diagnosis. It will also help the doctor, sitting miles away, get an accurate picture of the patient’s health history and of his internal organs through precise, accurate scan technologies.
Virtual hospitals do not let patients perform procedures on themselves-what it does is to make the best doctor and the best technology, based in any area of the world, step in at the right time-either virtually or by connecting the patient with the best available option-at that particular point. Telemedicine then helps the doctor monitor the patient. At a time when remote surgery, automation and robotics are all being tried and tested, virtual hospitals will ensure that the right technology reaches the patient at the right time.
“Right now, anyone who experiences the slightest discomfort immediately checks in to the emergency section of a hospital, placing great burden on the hospital resources. Virtual hospitals step in to address this problem by helping the patient get in touch with specialists anywhere in the world the moment he feels unwell,” said Marwan Bin Dalmook, Senior Vice President-ICT Commercial & Business Development-Enterprise Solutions, Du, speaking to AME Info. “Virtual hospitals are the next big thing in healthcare and it is our endeavour to make this a reality as soon as possible.”
Du is collaborating with the Ministry of Health to set up the region’s first virtual hospital, where cutting edge technology makes global healthcare easily accessible. “The modalities, cost and infrastructure are all being worked out, we hope to get it in place soon,” Dalmook added.
When digital takes over
The value proposition for virtual hospitals centers on the efficiency of the labour force, where the right people can be put in the right place at the right time instead of wasting resources where they are not needed. Perhaps one of the most important benefits of a virtual hospital is that patients located in remote and rural areas as well as those with limited mobility can have the same access to healthcare that someone in the city has. “Cost is another important aspect,” Dalmook pointed out. “Think of it this way-in addition to the cost of consultation, diagnosis and procedures, suppose patients opt to receive treatment in a different country, things like visas, flight tickets etc should also be factored in. Virtual Hospitals save cost and dissolve geographical barriers,” he added.
A bumpy road
One of the biggest challenges in the region is the up skilling of healthcare professionals to help them stay ahead of technology and virtual reality. According to a report published by Al Tamimi and Co titled eHealth and Telemedicine in the Gulf: A Two-Part Guide, “One of the biggest concerns for the healthcare sector in the Gulf countries is the shortage of experienced healthcare professionals. Elsewhere there is a proficient baseline of qualified and experienced providers who routinely use telemedicine as a gateway to offer easier access to healthcare services and create efficiencies in the healthcare system. In the Gulf countries, we consider telemedicine to be the jump-start solution to expanding the reach of experienced healthcare professionals, and to tap into the advances made in other countries.”
While there are several challenges waiting to be addressed, it is clear that healthcare in the UAE is all set to go completely virtual. As Dalmook says: “It’s only a matter of time before UAE residents will be able to have access to the best in global medicine, at their fingertips.” We can hardly wait!