More than half of UAE expats highly likely to use telehealth services

New research released by vHealth shows that residents in the Gulf country are embracing telemedicine, with the company reporting a 500% increase in the use of its telehealth app between March and September 2020, compared to the same period last year.
By Ahmed El Sherif
07:32 AM
Aetna, telehealth, telemedicine, vHealth

Credit: Aetna International

Residents in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are embracing telemedicine, with virtual-consultations appearing to be increasing in popularity. This is according to new data released by the UAE division of the international telehealth provider, vHealth.

The company has reported that it has seen a 500% increase in the use of its telehealth app between the months of March and September this year, compared to the same period in 2019. The increase has unsurprisingly been attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, with reasons cited including stay-at-home restrictions, closures of healthcare facilities, and social distancing.

However, while it was due to the pandemic that residents were forced to find healthcare alternatives, vHealth elaborated that those in the UAE have “adapted quickly” to the change, with a quarter of patients already using its service more than once.

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“vHealth data shows that 25% have already used the service more than once and seem happy to stick with the new system. Appointments now cover a full spectrum of health concerns and 90% of patients avoid the need for further care,” the company said in a statement. “In reality, it’s no longer just about COVID-19. As customers get more accustomed to telehealth, they’re starting to see the true value of the service. 

“People are clearly more reluctant to sit in hospital waiting rooms and pharmacies, but they also appreciate the many benefits of being able to resolve their health care needs in the comfort of their own home.”

THE LARGER CONTEXT

According to vHealth’s parent company, Aetna International, the UAE has been “quicker than most” to embrace telemedicine technology, finding that “54% of UAE expats are highly likely to use virtual healthcare services to access primary care, [which is] 14% higher than the global average.”

Joe Hawayek, senior director and head of vHealth MEA, explained that widespread adoption of the service was only a matter of time: “There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has helped to accelerate adoption, but confidence in services like vHealth were already growing before the pandemic. Customers trust the service and see it as a marked improvement on face-to-face consultations.

“You only have to look at our customer satisfaction scores to realise that those who have tried it are going to use it more and more in the future.”

Hawayek added that there is now growing pressure on employers to provide telehealth benefits to employees.

“Telehealth is becoming a fundamental feature of every corporate health plan in the UAE,” he continued. “Employers are increasingly aware of its potential to drive down costs and improve productivity. Plus, it’s a benefit that they know their employees will use and appreciate.”

vHealth data also showed that patients are not just using telehealth for urgent enquiries; many have already used it for mental health support, with 60% of UAE consultations occurring between March and May 2020 relating to the condition. August 2020 saw 23% of its enquiries also relating to mental health.

ON THE RECORD

“Whether it’s a lack of activity or the fear of losing a job, we have seen a significant increase in cases of weight-gain, hypertension and vitamin D deficiency over the last few months, as well as stress, anxiety and other mental-health concerns,” explained vHealth medical director, Nairah Rasul-Syed. “[Telehealth] services like vHealth provided a much-needed lifeline to those who were confined to their homes but wanted to address their health conditions.”

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Top row - left to right: Dr Don Rucker, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), HHS Office of the Secretary, US, Tim Kelsey, SVP - Analytics, HIMSS, Australia and Dr Ahmed Balkhair, Saudi Arabia’s Digital Transformation Advisor, Ministry of Health. 

Bottom row: Dr Anne Snowdon, Director of Clinical Research - Analytics, HIMSS, Canada.

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Left to right: Dr Taghreed Justinia, regional director IT services, Technology & Health Informatics, King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, Dr Fadi Al-Buhairan, deputy CEO, Saudi Post Co. and Bogi Eliasen, futurist, CIFS.  

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Top Story

Digital Transformation

Top row - left to right: Dr Don Rucker, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), HHS Office of the Secretary, US, Tim Kelsey, SVP - Analytics, HIMSS, Australia and Dr Ahmed Balkhair, Saudi Arabia’s Digital Transformation Advisor, Ministry of Health. 

Bottom row: Dr Anne Snowdon, Director of Clinical Research - Analytics, HIMSS, Canada.