By Ayad Nahas – Communications Strategist
The Middle East was on a transformational journey even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, where its healthcare system was concerned. The population – and the growing number of those with chronic diseases – had been rising for some time. This, coupled with rapid and widespread penetration of digital tools and solutions into everyday life, was a driving force for healthcare leaders to accelerate the development of digital health and to facilitate the improvement of access to patient care through digitization.
However, according to medical experts, virtual care technologies – methods that help bring provider-to-patient or provider-provider together remotely – were scarcely used prior to coronavirus among different nationalities. This quickly changed when the pandemic reared its head and we are currently going through a major digital transformation in the field of medicine, at the national level, which is leading to the formation of full-fledged digital medical facilities.
The case for virtual hospitals in the region is now stronger than ever, given the current outbreak of COVID-19. To limit the Coronavirus outbreak that is invading the world, patients suffering from suspicious symptoms were advised to stay at home and seek help through digital platforms prior to visiting a clinic or hospital.
According to Foster research, there were over 1 billion telehealth patients across the globe in 2020. Digital medical care, which was worth an estimated $38.7 billion in 2020, is expected to become a $191 billion industry in 2025, with virtual hospitals expected to become the new normal.
Virtual hospitals are facilities where doctors and nurses can provide remote care to patients based at home, or in another location, via smart monitors or Artificial Intelligence devices. Healthcare professionals are able to see and communicate with their patients and gain access to their data, resulting in efficient diagnosis and treatment processes.
One example of a virtual hospital is the UAE’s Mercy Virtual Care Center, described as the world’s first facility dedicated to telehealth. Leading telecom operator DU has also announced its plans to set up the UAE’s first virtual hospital.
Last September, UAE-based Orient Insurance and Allianz Care launched the first UAE-based telemedicine service for international health insurance customers. It also provides the opportunity to make healthcare accessible for all – providing urgent advice to those around the world who are based in remote or rural areas.
Dr. Ali Taher, Professor of Medicine, Hematology, and Oncology at Lebanon’s AUBMC and one of the world’s leading hematology medical practitioners, said: “Medical care is moving into the digital age in full swing and we are witnessing the exponential growth in the numbers of full-fledged digital health care facilities since 12 months across the globe and in the Middle East.”
He added “Remote healthcare – or telehealth has made a very positive contribution to healthcare and is being used in a variety of ways. It is emerging as an effective and sustainable solution for precaution, prevention, and treatment to curb the spread of COVID-19. Around 4.66 billion internet users worldwide, a number that is continuously increasing, will have the opportunity to benefit from digital health transformation and all other innovative techniques that are being entailed towards a holistic healthcare approach.”
Other leading doctors throughout the GCC also believe that the future lies in digital health. While this was already happening prior to the pandemic, the spread of COVID-19 created the urgency of moving fast towards the most advanced medical care from the comfort of a patient’s smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
In line with the ongoing virtual health boom, Lebanon-based entrepreneur Hady Bsat launched DRAPP, an app that links doctors and patients at a click of a button. He believes that virtual health through teleconsultation is the future. Accordingly, his app is designed for doctors to provide them with a tool that enables their patients to stay connected with them, instead of going to randomly available doctors that might not serve their needs.
He is confident that virtual health and the inception of digital hospitals have become a necessity rather than a luxury. Accordingly, telemedicine has most certainly become the global standard in tertiary care centers in most countries throughout the globe.