UAE to set up first virtual hospital in the Middle East

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Du, which provides telephone, internet and other digital services for businesses and consumers across the country, is reportedly in talks with the ministry to provide an innovative offering that eases the burden on traditional hospital resources.

“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,” Marwan Bin Dalmook, senior vice president for ICT commercial and business development-enterprise solutions at Du, told AME Info. “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.

“The modalities, cost and infrastructure are all being worked out [with the MoH]. We hope to get it in place soon.”

WHY IT MATTERS

The case for virtual hospitals in the region is stronger than ever, given the current outbreak of Covid-19. The coronavirus has caused a wave of cancellations of events and flights, with cities even put under lockdown. To avoid spreading the virus, those suspecting symptoms are advised to stay at home and seek help via telephone prior to visiting a clinic or hospital.

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 AI 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 Mercy Virtual Care Center, described as the “world’s first facility dedicated to telehealth”. Closer to home, there are telemedicine offerings – not full facilities – such as Mubadala’s Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre, which offers 24/7 medical consultations over the phone. Last September, Orient Insurance and Allianz Care launched the first UAE-based telemedicine service for international health insurance customers.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Whilst telemedicine is a component of a virtual hospital, a full hospital would bring many aspects of healthcare together, including robotics, remote surgery and others.

The main advantage of virtual hospitals is efficiency. Rather than waste valuable ER resources, for example, patients can stay home and gain access to a doctor in the same amount of time. 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.

“Cost is another important aspect,” Dalmook stated. “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.”

ON THE RECORD

Dalmook concluded: “Virtual hospitals save costs and dissolve geographical barriers.

“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.”

In January, the MoH and Du signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at Arab Health 2020, to work on developing and offering smart healthcare services, including a telemedicine app.

“Signing the MoU with Du comes in line with our relentless efforts to keep abreast of and harness the latest international technologies,” said Minister of Health and Prevention Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammed Al Owais. “It is also to support our leadership ambitions to transform itself into a smart government and strengthen the UAE’s leading position as a global hub for smart solutions. We will offer a new generation of sophisticated healthcare services.”

Dr. Mohammad Salim Al Olama, undersecretary of the ministry, added: “This is part of the ministry’s strategy aiming to harness AI technologies to meet the needs of patients, supports decision-making process, monitor patients’ condition remotely, provide preventive healthcare and reduce healthcare costs.”

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