Mobile is doctor's helper as technology revolutionises medicine

Three-D glasses for surgeons and mobile apps that can share ultrasound images and videos during a check-up are helping revolutionise the healthcare industry.

Two people observe a 3D image during the presentation of a new 3D High Definition laparoscopy technology, developed by Clinic Hospital, in Barcelona. Marta Perez / EPA
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Surgeons sporting 3-D glasses, and mobile apps that can share ultrasound pictures with loved ones during a check-up illustrate some of the high-tech gadgetry revolutionising the healthcare sector.

Numerous electronics makers are introducing their innovations to the UAE, where spending on health care topped Dh28 billion (US$7.6bn) last year and is forecast to grow more than 8 per cent this year, according to data from Business Monitor International.

Businesses, including smartphone manufacturers, software developers and insurers, are expected to benefit from a growing number of doctors who are turning to mobile phones in particular to more accurately diagnose and examine patients from afar.

"Mobile-enabled health solutions, known as mHealth, are a critical growth area within the healthcare sector today," said Tom Farrell, the vice president of Nokia in the Middle East. "Its potential for growth in emerging markets, both for consumers and healthcare service providers, is considerable."

This is the first year the Arab Health exhibition, which begins tomorrow in Dubai, will be hosting a conference dedicated to mHealth.

The session will showcase how doctors can monitor aspects of a patient remotely, including blood pressure and glucose levels.

"It's being implemented in the US, and moving into Europe - and we're hoping to bring it to the forefront of people's minds in the UAE," said Lisa Stephens, the executive director of the life sciences division at Informa Exhibitions, which puts on Arab Health.

Companies are now pouring millions of dollars into mHealth research and development - even if they have to give money away to spur new ideas.

Last week, the chip maker Qualcomm launched a global competition - with a $10 million prize - to stimulate innovation relating to medical diagnostic technologies amid advancements in artificial intelligence and wireless sensing, which are making health care more affordable and accessible. The winning team will most accurately diagnose diseases - independent of a doctor or hospital - and provide consumers on a mobile device with the best advice.

Within the region Qualcomm has worked with telecommunications operators in Egypt on a health-based app called Mobile Baby, which lets doctors use a mobile to remotely monitor pregnant women in rural parts of the country.

Ziad Matar, the head of the Middle East and Central Asia for Qualcomm, said the app was used as "more of a lifestyle" programme within the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where a pregnant woman can visit their doctor, get an ultrasound then pass video clips and even 3D scans to loved ones through their smartphones.

Other local high-tech firms, including FVC and the telecoms firm du, have demonstrated so-called telemedicine innovations designed to help the UAE's healthcare community.

Mulk Holdings, a company based in Sharjah that works in health care as well as construction materials and renewable energy, launched its first of a dozen telemedicine centres in October. The centres will link medical specialists in the UK and US to patients within the Gulf.

Alcatel-Lucent in the Middle East and Africa said it had "leads" for new business in the Gulf with its "safe campus solutions". Conceived for universities, the technology is now being pitched to hospitals, where alerts - such as a hallway fire or patient emergencies - can be sent directly to a nurse's mobile. The programme also includes a feature that can detect which medical specialist is nearest to a patient, helping to cut waiting times during panic calls from an average of 5 to 10 minutes down to a maximum of 1 minute, said Alcatel.

Some businesses are looking to other segments within the technology sector for growth opportunities.

Sony Professionalclaims to have the first surgery monitor made from a high-definition OLED screen, which is being showcased in the region for the first time at Arab Health. It costs $10,000.

Hospital officials can also see presentations of new 3-D monitors used for complicated surgeries, which retail for $6,000 to $8,000. Surgeons, Sony said, can also "benefit from a smooth, uninterrupted view of multiple monitors whilst wearing light, comfortable, polarized glasses."

Of course, not all of these devices will be a hit among buyers. "It depends on who uses them, and what the intended purpose is," said Peter Kim, who planned to attend Arab Health and is the vice-president of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children's National Medical Center in the US.

"It all comes down to how you design the system.".