Dubai doctors focus on future 'pre-illness'

Lifestyle clinics finding success in diverting chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease

Dr Manal Taryam, CEO of the Dubai Primary Healthcare Sector, said lifestyle clinics that opened in June are proving effective in helping people avoid chronic lifelong illnesses. Courtesy: Dubai Health Authority
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Dubai doctors are focusing on “pre-illness”, using the latest technology to avoid chronic health problems in at-risk patients.

More than 200 people have been successfully treated using preventative methods at two clinics that opened in June.

The success of primary health clinics in Al Barsha and Nadd Al Hamar could result in the programme being expanded to other communities in Dubai.

On day two of Arab Health, the largest healthcare event in the Mena region, Dr Manal Taryam, primary healthcare chief executive of Dubai Health Authority, said a change in approach was needed to adapt to ever-increasing numbers of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

"These clinics do not target sick people," she told the event in Dubai World Trade Centre.

“They are helping people with pre-illness, who are not diagnosed but need work improving their lifestyle to prevent them getting sick in the future.”

People in need of help are referred to specialist clinics by doctors. These then make an evaluation based on lifestyle, biometrics and family history.

Diabetes patients can face decades of having to take medicine, with the costs picked up by insurers and the health authorities.

By focusing on prevention, the DHA is encouraging vulnerable patients to switch to healthier lifestyles that could save millions of dirhams.

At the two clinics, doctors work with dieticians, physical trainers and therapists.

So far, three doctors have graduated from a specific 18-month DHA programme in “pre-illness”.

More are to follow as the project expands, with an added focus on mental health.

Treatment plans are covered under the Saada health insurance for nationals, and those with comprehensive coverage.

"We have had promising results, and people are accepting the advice from those trained in healthy lifestyle management," Dr Taryam said.

"Now we need more people to become trained in this aspect of health care. Prevention is a far cheaper alternative to lifelong care."

DHA mobile app Hayati, already used by diabetics, can now also screen users for signs that they may be at risk from an unhealthy lifestyle.

Hayati offers advice on healthier choices, and how they can get access to further services.

Educational and motivational videos are also on the app, encouraging people to make better choices.

“We want to make these services available to everyone, rather than just those with medical records stored digitally with the DHA,” she said.

“It ultimately comes down to the responsibility of the individual. We all want to live a long and healthy life.

“Doctors and nurses can provide services, but they are only there when people are sick. They are not there when people are making choices that impact their health.

“It is like quitting smoking – people must take responsibility for their own actions.”

The Ministry of Health and Prevention has developed a similar online portal, with an interactive map directing people towards venues promoting physical activity.

Elsewhere at Arab Health, the Department of Health Abu Dhabi demonstrated how care could be accessed across regional borders.

It showed how health data could be stored on an Emirates ID card and accessed by supporting hospitals and clinics across the GCC to give on-the-spot care to visitors.

Sharing individual health information would allow people to get care covered by their domestic health insurance, when visiting other GCC member states.