Healthcare For The Masses: Why Tele-Health Is A Game Changer For The Middle East
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Sarah, a new mother, realized at 2 am that her baby had a serious skin rash. She was left with having to make a decision between either driving to the nearest ER, risking her baby catching a cold, or waiting until the early hours of the morning to book a doctor’s appointment.
However, what would have once been life-threatening for her infant was resolved within minutes through a quick phone call enabled via a telehealth app. The rash was diagnosed as an allergic reaction to the infant’s medication, which was immediately discontinued.
The Middle East, with an estimated population of 580 million people, has constantly struggled with having a solid and effective healthcare ecosystem. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, which rose dramatically since 2015, kills around 1.7 million people annually in the Eastern Mediterranean region. This is due to unhealthy lifestyles common in these countries, which include poor eating habits, lack of physical exercise and stress.
So, how did technology step in, and pave the way to an effective healthcare system? The MENA region is gradually shifting towards online medical consultations. With more options in the market due to the rise of healthcare startups and the change in consumer behavior, more Middle Easterners are now yearning to access tech-oriented solutions.
With technology being the future of healthcare, artificial intelligence (AI) lies at the heart of this process, and it promises a significant impact that will drive healthcare transformation in the region. It can resolve what is commonly known as the “iron triangle” dilemma, aiming to balance the main factors of healthcare which are access, effectiveness, and affordability.
Technology would, therefore, provide that first layer of healthcare to the masses in a trusted environment, where users can not only get reliable medical services but also have access to the unlimited medical information on many common topics, thus alleviating the burden of medical consultation costs.
In my opinion, AI has the substantial potential of improving healthcare in large communities in the MENA region especially in Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Both countries are in dire need of proper healthcare systems where citizens, especially the underprivileged, can access affordable and effective high-quality medical care.
This affects both patients and doctors alike, eventually leading to more informed healthcare diagnosis and high-quality recommendations. The end result of this process is allowing population health management. This is exactly how AI technology built into my company’s platform, Altibbi, will provide more personalized and affordable care at a faster pace with lower chances of error.
For example, Altibbi's medical chatbot has already been working on learning from the experiences of all doctors from the data sets we have to cut costs and diagnose illnesses faster and more accurately.
With a large segment of the population in the MENA region lacking access to proper healthcare, Egypt and KSA have recorded a prodigious number of visits on our app, becoming the top of the list in the number of users who use our application for medical consultations. For example, recent studies conducted by our team proved that Upper Egypt governorates face a critical lack of access to basic healthcare, while Saudi Arabia has many challenges including the availability of sufficient continuous financial support to execute, operate, and maintain the telehealth ecosystem, and the remuneration of its services.
Telehealth is starting to be perceived as a vital ingredient in enhancing the healthcare infrastructure in the Middle East, assuring significant improvements for patients and medical practitioners. It holds the key to solving the most pressing issues including medical care access and efficient medical consultations.
As matters stand, individuals can benefit from telehealth in their self-care routine, which will lower costs, ease the burden of care, and save lives. Proper health management is critical to both patient and healthcare providers in terms of efficient spending. Hence, we have employed machine learning to leverage our ever-growing data sets as training data that improves the life of Altibbi’s patients.
With more government and healthcare entities making commendable efforts to integrate technology into the revamping plans of healthcare infrastructure, the healthcare ecosystem should witness further improvement in the near future.
Consequently, we launched an initiative in February 2019 to provide one million free telehealth consultations in Egypt in partnership with WE Telecom. It targets Upper Egypt governorates, achieving a significant milestone of providing over 60 thousand telehealth consultations per month, which is more than the total number of monthly outpatients served by the biggest medical centers in the MENA region. Be it chat or phone calls, the consultations are coming through at very high rates.
If this proves anything, it would be how consumers’ behavior has changed, and how telehealth is now a game-changer in healthcare in the Middle East.