During the pandemic, the UAE, like the rest of the world, saw its healthcare system stretched to its limits. But even amid such challenging times, the country swiftly set up operations for mass testing and vaccinations.
By building large field hospitals, making thousands of beds available and opening more than a dozen rapid testing drive-through facilities, the country excelled in managing the crisis. Going by percentage of population, the Emirates is today among the world’s top three vaccinated countries.
The emergence of the pandemic also raised important questions for local health organisations: how to track infections, how to treat patients remotely and how to rapidly scale up capacity – all of which hastened the adoption of telemedicine, artificial intelligence, big data and other digital health solutions.
According to research from management consultants Ernst & Young, 53 per cent of healthcare operators in the UAE plan to increase their investment in health technology over the next three years, after seeing their value during the pandemic. In fact, 86 per cent of healthcare operators believe that the use of digital technologies led to increased staff productivity.
During the pandemic, healthcare operators in the UAE were quick to scale up their use of telemedicine to monitor patients at home, especially the elderly and those at risk, for whom it was not safe to venture into clinics or hospitals. The country is now set to add further remote healthcare services.
The Dubai Health Authority is collaborating with a local start-up, Enpy, to deploy an AI-powered product that would be able to monitor a patient’s vital signs remotely, enabling doctors to make rapid interventions and improve patient outcomes.
Digital health, however, can be applied to health care much beyond the pandemic. Across the Middle East and in the UAE, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer are a growing threat. It has become essential to track disease trends and monitor how chronic patients adhere to treatment schedules. In this context, digital health is enabling UAE organisations to track and curb disease through biosensors in wearable devices, AI and through remotely monitoring patients.
Last month, Arab Health, the region’s leading global health event, showcased some of the most promising digital health solutions, including those from British companies.
The UK is a global leader in digital health innovation and many British healthcare technology firms have introduced and tested their solutions in the National Health Service (NHS), the world's largest single-payer universal healthcare system.
For example, a digital health company in the UK, Difrent, developed and delivered a home PCR test ordering service in record time for the NHS to get front line staff out of quarantine and back to work during the pandemic. They distributed 1 million home test kits across the UK and within two weeks, scaled the service from key workers to all UK citizens.
The UK is uniquely placed to realise the potential of digital technologies in healthcare in the UK and overseas. It is home to legions of companies that have pioneered innovative healthcare across a range of sectors, such as e-record management and remote monitoring.
In fact, British digital healthcare firms are cementing their place in the UAE and the wider region. For example, to help diagnose breast cancer in the UAE and by harnessing the use of AI, a software company in London, Kheiron Medical Technologies, has signed a deal with a local distributor in the Emirates, Atlas Medical. With patented technology developed on more than three million breast images, Kheiron Medical's platform for breast screening – called Mia (Mammography Intelligent Assessment) – is designed to support radiologists in making critical decisions, such as whether to recall women for further testing, based on their mammography results.
In another significant development, a UK-based remote care firm, My Way Digital Health, that helps diabetes patients "self-manage" their symptoms, has piloted its technology in the UAE. The company is set to open an office in the Emirates this year. Its solutions, which have been translated into Arabic, have improved diabetes prevention and management outcomes in Britain by around 40 per cent.
And in an example of a significant UK-UAE collaboration, Dubai’s Osteopathic Health Centre unveiled the Middle East’s first digital health library. This will allow approximately 40,000 customers in the UAE to have access to a range of apps to help them personally manage their health issues, whether it is to stop smoking or to help reduce obesity.
The digital library is a result of a partnership with another British entity, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps, which is the world’s largest health app review and distribution company.
Healthcare practitioners will be able to select and subscribe to the apps for their patients as required, in the same way that they prescribe traditional medicines, giving patients the support they need to manage their health conditions at home.
The library includes apps that contain guidance in areas ranging from family planning and mental health to helping patients manage issues such as chronic back pain and other debilitating conditions.
There is immense opportunity for further UK-UAE partnerships in the digital health space. And it is clear that innovations in the UK’s medical field align closely with the UAE’s goals to transform health care and to help patients live a better life.
Hassan Chaudhury is global digital health specialist, healthcare UK, Department for International Trade in London