ABU DHABI // Knowing that your doctor is just a phone call away puts one’s mind at ease, especially if you have children or elderly relatives at home or live far from a hospital, say physicians.
The Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre is making this the norm by allowing patients to make a phone call and seek a doctor’s opinion instead of heading to a hospital or clinic.
Young mothers are among the top callers at Abu Dhabi’s first round-the-clock telemedicine centre. Experts say telemedicine technology has been very well received in the country. The ADTC, a joint venture between Mubadala Healthcare and Swiss company Medgate, received 1.3 million calls from patients since opening in 2014.
Dr Sameera Al Obaidli, lead physician at the centre, said: “About 30 per cent of our callers are from remote areas like Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, where women don’t go out at night. It’s much more convenient for them to call at those times. We see an increasing volume of women utilising our medical tele-consultation services – particularly late at night – when their local healthcare facility may be closed.
“We get a lot paediatric cases and mothers calling about their babies. Mothers who have given birth recently also call at night.
“We get many calls from men in the Northern Emirates when they are driving to work. They work far away from their homes and they prefer to call us while they are driving,” she said.
The centre has diagnosed 1,700 medical conditions to date.
“Emiratis are three times more likely than expatriates to seek outpatient care, and visit clinics or hospitals an average of 14 times a year,” said Dr Al Obaidli. The centre caters only to members with Daman Thiqa or enhanced coverage.
Dr Al Obadili believes widespread internet and smartphone use in the UAE makes telemedicine a success – 88 per cent of the country’s population are internet users.
After a long day at work, one concerned mother, Wafa, was dreading taking her 10-year-old son, who was suffering from a skin infection, to the hospital.
“Instead of waiting for over an hour to see a doctor, I decided to give telemedicine a try,” said the Algerian mother.
“I called Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre and they asked me to send a picture of the area that was red through their mobile application. A doctor called and spoke with me and told me what medicine to get,” said Wafa, a government employee.
“Telemedicine is convenient. If you go to the hospital, you need at least an hour and a half and you get the same advice,” she said. “More people should know about this technology,” she said, adding that younger people would be more likely to use it.
Dr Issam Badaoui, regional medical director at International SOS Dubai Assistance Centre, a company of experts in global health issues, said they received many calls from UAE business travellers looking for information and medical advice ahead of assignments abroad.
“There is a lot that you can do to offer assistance to people in remote locations, as long as you have a team of expertly trained medical professionals who are available round the clock and the capacity to offer help on the ground as well. In 2015 alone, we received 4.7 million calls to our assistance centres,” Dr Badaoui said.
“In my experience, frequent travellers, particularly those on international assignments, find it convenient to receive direct, detailed assistance from our medical professionals over the phone,” he said.
Sara, a 29-year-old sales employee living in Abu Dhabi, was tired one evening but in pain with a stomach ache.
The Emirati woman hates hospitals and did not want to go to one. On her sister’s advice she tried telemedicine.
“I called Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre and spoke with a doctor. I didn’t have to wait long hours at a hospital,” she said adding that the longest she has waited for a doctor at a hospital was two hours.
“More people should know about this. When my mum needed help, I told her to use the service too.
“This can be very useful, especially for mums who can’t go out at all hours and many have children at home,” she said.