Not Just An Emergency Fix: Telemedicine Is Poised For Growth In The GCC
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Like the rest of the world, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) economies felt the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Based on excessive casualties and confirmed cases globally, it’s no wonder that the Gulf nations have turned to telemedicine to ease the strain on their healthcare systems, while facilitating ease of use, client confidentiality, data security, and professional compliance. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) projected a shortfall of 18 million healthcare workers by 2030, telemedicine has seen a 400% increase in global inquiries during the last quarter. Could telemedicine be the answer to WHO’s staff shortage projection during a time of crisis and uncertainty?
Thanks to innovative technologies, healthcare delivery is available to patients in an online and remote capacity, regardless of geography. Virtual healthcare and monitoring have contributed to relieving the colossal burden frontline healthcare workers already carry. An example of such innovative technologies in the UAE is the smart wristband, which asymptomatic or mild case COVID-19 patients wear for remote monitoring while they quarantine at home, leaving in-patient appointments for those who need physical and mental emergency care.
After an incredibly damaging year for so many reasons, silver linings within the telemedicine branch of healthcare include gaining access to various medical services on demand. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the projections for a digital health boom may not have foreseen what the world and healthcare industry would bear witness to. However, the virus outbreak has expedited telemedicine technology developments, which companies, healthcare professionals, and patients were quick to adapt to. The GCC healthcare market is now estimated to reach US$39.7 billion in 2021. Telemedicine is a broad offering that includes but is not limited to chronic disease management, remote on-call visits, psychiatry, mental health support, and medication renewal.
Medical professionals who grew up in the digital age or who are tech savvy have welcomed the increased use of technology to continue giving sound medical advice and administering prescriptions, prognosis, and treatments at a high standard, while mitigating the risks of in-person virus transmission. Embracing working-from-home and eliminating commute time, healthcare professionals can see more patients during their workday than was previously possible both in a regional and international capacity. The unprecedented growth of telemedicine has highlighted the growing importance of these virtual care solutions. The easy access to smart devices and faster internet connections facilitate medical professionals to carry out their consultations via developed video conferencing software.
Although many industries rely heavily on international recruitment to source the right skills for a fortified workforce, many countries have imposed strict movement restrictions. The halt on skilled migration has heavily impacted immigration-dependent sectors for staffing, such as the healthcare industry. Due to a lack of regionally trained professionals, innovative technology holds the key to bridging this geographical disadvantage and global staffing shortages by facilitating remote healthcare services across borders.
In KSA, the Ministry of Health has established a telemedicine strategy to reach remote areas where specialty services are not currently available. In addition to the use of telemedicine technologies, the concept of digital health passports, which displays the holder’s COVID-19 health status, is fundamental to restarting professional migration to supply the necessary skills and talent to areas where there are shortages. Frost & Sullivan predicts that 20% of patients in the KSA and UAE will avail of virtual visits in 2021.
An example of the efficiency of telemedicine services is teleradiology, when a radiologist remotely interprets a patient’s medical images. The use of innovative digital tools like artificial intelligence, informatics, and secure blockchain storage accelerates medical interpretation turnover, as more relevant professionals are remotely accessible to securely facilitate patients. Telemedicine services like this increase convenience for patients, free up hospital resources, and give private sector healthcare companies significant reach across borders.
The sheer demands for telemedicine services give cause to ensure that the professionals delivering the healthcare are verified, qualified, and use the correct technology in doing so. While the GCC can have a lengthy hiring process, which can take up to six months, recruiters need to focus on pre-verified candidates to expedite the hiring process and place the right professional into their relevant healthcare role.
From the ashes of canceled in-patient appointments rose telemedicine solutions in an updated and expedited form, which the world has been incredibly grateful to. With 2021 upon us, it’s time for businesses, healthcare professionals, and patients to look ahead, ease the pressure on brick-and-mortar resources, and adjust to a world of non-emergency telemedicine care as a permanent solution, not just an emergency fix.