Health industry experts in the UAE have said that telemedicine has proven to be a more suitable option for elder care, as it’s more of a convenience to the patient and the family for non-emergency care being dealt with remotely or virtually.

“Teleconsultation is vital for the elderly and high-risk populations, offering safety by minimizing exposure risks. It provides accessible healthcare remotely, catering to mobility challenges,” said Dr Shanila Laiju, group chief executive officer at Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres.

The Covid-19 pandemic significantly increased the awareness and use of telemedicine and teleconsultations, offering a convenient alternative to healthcare services. The ease of scheduling appointments and following guidelines for secure and effective remote healthcare has contributed to the popularity of these services.

Requires awareness

However, telemedicine is not limited to a specific category but is embraced by individuals across various groups. While many residents are less aware, individuals working and knowledgeable about telemedicine actively utilise its benefits. “The key advantage lies in its accessibility, allowing individuals to connect with doctors through video calls from any location. As awareness increases, so does the utilization of telemedicine,” said Dr Omar Nabi Siraj, head of operations at Thumbay University Hospital.

Saving time

Healthcare experts emphasised that telemedicine has significantly benefited individuals by overcoming time constraints. The flexibility of scheduling appointments within a doctor's duty hours, free from traffic and travel limitations, allows for virtual consultations from the comfort of one's home or workplace.

“There are multiple examples where virtual consultations have assisted patients remotely as and when required, alleviating their concerns spontaneously — be it pediatric, aged group patients, or as a component of follow-ups. The best examples are the care provided for those who will find it challenging to come to hospital due to transportation issues, need for special assistance, weak immune system and or infectious cases,” said Prof. Abdel Rahman Ahmed Omer, group medical director, Burjeel Holdings.

Higher demand for teleconsultation

Telemedicine has seen increased demand across healthcare areas due to its adaptability. It's popular for primary care, handling routine check-ups, and managing minor ailments without physical visits. Chronic disease management, specialized care access regardless of location, and postoperative follow-ups are other key areas where telemedicine excels, said industry experts.

“Regular non-emergency cases have seen a higher demand for telemedicine services, especially when combined with the need for access to highly specialised services that are centralized and not located near the patient's residence,” said Prof. Abdel Rahman.

Rise in mental health consultation

Teleconsultation has proven to be especially impactful in the field of mental health, offering a new approach to caregiving, said experts. “It facilitates a patient-centered experience, allowing individuals to communicate with healthcare professionals in a manner that is less daunting and more conducive to honest discussions,” said Dr Omar, adding that this virtual platform allows patients to express themselves freely, breaking down barriers that might exist in face-to-face interactions.

"Mental health has been receiving higher awareness recently. It is still not being covered largely by insurance, and hence most patients have to pay out of their pocket to avail the care. In this scenario, telemedicine platforms will add a lot of value in moderating costs relating to mental healthcare, and we are very keen to initiate this activity as a part of our social responsibility towards the residents of the UAE,” said Prof. Abdel Rahman.

Benefits of virtual consultation

Experts said that virtual consultations have revolutionized healthcare in multiple ways.

  • They provide unparalleled convenience, allowing people to connect with healthcare professionals from anywhere.
  • Access to specialized care has expanded, benefiting those in remote areas.
  • Immediate medical advice has reduced unnecessary ER visits.
  • Continuity of care for chronic conditions is ensured through regular virtual check-ins.
  • Additionally, these consultations have improved access to mental health services and have been crucial in reducing infection risks during health crises like the Covid-19 pandemic.

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