Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre consults by phone to increase access to healthcare

As healthcare knowledge and expertise becomes more innovative with time, consumers’ demand for that same medical guidance has increased across the world. Despite this innovation, millions of patients across the globe don’t have easy access to healthcare, and are in need of efficient and high quality medical guidance for even the most common health conditions, including the flu, skin rashes or a chronic cough. Telemedicine, or the remote delivery of medical information between locations by means of electronic communication, has emerged as a reliable solution, both improving the dissemination of medical knowledge and helping to bridge the all-toocommon gap between patients and healthcare providers. Middle East Health reports.

Originating over forty years ago, telemedicine began as a method for hospitals to extend care, beyond the boundaries of their walls, to patients living in areas without direct access to healthcare facilities or providers. Telemedicine has since spread – today enabled by advances in technology, it is successfully used in over 85 countries worldwide.

Broad in meaning and scope, the practice of telemedicine encompasses an array of methods of exchanging medical information. For example, electronic medical records, remote medical device management, vital sign monitoring, and video conferencing, among others are considered forms of telemedicine. Many agree that telemedicine may be one of the most effective and efficient forms of healthcare delivery in operation, as consumer-facing call centres and applications have helped manage costs for consumers, insurers, and healthcare providers alike, when compared to the costs associated with traditional methods of healthcare delivery.

Global success

The use of telemedicine as a safe and effective form of healthcare delivery has seen great success in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. Within the US, there are nearly 200 telemedicine networks, with more than 3,500 service sites. In fact, more than half of all US hospitals use some form of telemedicine.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospitals, a top ranking children’s hospital in the US, is among the hospitals utilizing telemedicine. The hospital began using electronic medical record keeping and teleconsultations to help combat the shortage of paediatric dermatologists in the region. Recognizing the need for a formal telemedicine program, digital cameras were kept in secure locations throughout the hospital. As cases presented, medical staff uploaded images to the patient’s electronic medical record, along with detailed notes about the patient’s symptoms and medical history, and shared the record remotely with a paediatric dermatologist.

St. Vincent Healthcare, a hospital based in rural Billings, Montana, has utilized telemedicine in a similar manner. Located a substantial distance from any of the larger, more well equipped metro-area hospitals, St. Vincent was regularly transporting paediatric patients with head injuries to Denver, Colorado for 24-hour observation by a paediatric neurologist, as mandated by the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, the transport cost per patient averaged US$15,000, a substantial cost for both the patient and hospital. Through the use of telemedicine, the hospital began sending a patient’s scans and medical records for evaluation, rather than the patient, saving valuable time, money and resources.

These cases are not unique to the US. In fact, the European telemedicine market is worth an estimated €i5 billion (about $6.2 billion). Amongst the most successful telemedicine endeavours in Europe is Medgate AG, a Swiss company founded by Dr Andy Fischer in 1999. Medgate is not only the leading telemedicine provider in Switzerland, but also the largest telemedicine centre operated by physicians in Europe. On average, the centre provides nearly 4,500 teleconsultations per day, and has consulted on over 4 million cases since its founding.

Telemedicine in the Middle East

Telemedicine and e-health is expanding, and becoming more prevalent in the Middle East. Recently, Mubadala Development Company, an investment and development company owned and operated by the Government of Abu Dhabi, UAE, partnered with Medgate to open Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre, based at Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi. Mubadala’s healthcare unit acts under a mandate to address the region’s most pressing healthcare needs through the creation of world-class healthcare facilities and the long-term development of locally based, sustainable capabilities. The 24/7 centre is the first of its kind in the UAE – fully staffed by medical professionals who are specially trained and qualified to practice telemedicine. As a fully digital and paperless facility, the centre applies modern technology to improve patient outcomes.

“Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre provides eligible patients located across the country direct access to high quality medical advice, increasing access to healthcare particularly for patients living in areas of the Emirates which may not have providers nearby,” said Hasan AlAttas, General Manager of Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre.

“Our team of experienced General Practitioners are fully qualified to diagnose a patient’s condition over the phone, recommend easy-to-understand treatment plans, provide second opinions on previous diagnoses and provide guidance on medications which the patient may already have. Patients can call us for any non-emergency medical condition; however, we do realize that some cases will require in-person consultations. In these instances, we recommend specialized healthcare providers who are nearby and covered by the patient’s insurance plan to complete the assessment,”

continued AlAttas. “Our doctors conveniently follow up with patients – whether they received a teleconsultation or were recommended to a clinic – to ensure that they’ve received the care they needed. “We aim to treat the majority of patients who call us over the phone via a teleconsultation; in fact, we’re currently treating 60% of all medical inquiries received by the Centre over the phone,” AlAttas added.

Diagnosing medical conditions

Dr Fischer, who sits on the Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre board, describes how medical staff are specially trained to diagnose a variety of conditions over the phone.

“Our physicians in Abu Dhabi, like their counterparts in Switzerland, employ the same medical methodology of elimination as in a hospital or clinic setting. This means doctors begin each teleconsultation by eliminating signs and symptoms of conditions that require emergency treatment. Patients are guided through simple self-examination techniques, and asked a series of questions to help our team in the diagnosis process. For example, the doctor may instruct the patient on how to look for anomalies on their skin or eyes, or how to apply pressure or move certain body parts to trigger pain responses. Similarly, physicians may guide patients on taking vital signs using common home health equipment such as thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, or glucometers, used by many diabetes patients,” said Dr Fischer. “Our professionals are also trained to listen for key signs over the phone, such as breathing patterns or coughs, which can tell us a great deal about the patient’s condition.”

Often, a visual can also help in diagnosing a medical condition. For example, photos can capture if a patient has a skin condition such as a rash that has not gone away or that has changed in appearance after several days. Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre has developed a free mobile application, Telemed, to address such needs. Available for both Android and iPhone, the application enables patients to take up to three pictures of the affected area, mark the affected area on a body map visual, and securely share the photos with the centre for further analysis by a doctor. Patients can also use Telemed to send photos of their medical reports for a doctor’s review in the diagnosis process, or even of medication labels should they need guidance on the usage or possible side-effects of the medication.

Benefits of telemedicine

In the Middle East, clinics and hospitals are often inundated with non-emergency cases that don’t necessitate an in-person consultation. According to Dr Fischer, approximately 50% of conditions can be diagnosed over the phone. The benefits of telemedicine are wide-ranging.

Cost Efficient

Telemedicine can help streamline the diagnosis and treatment process in some cases, and as such relieve the healthcare system by decreasing costs for both patients and providers.

Time Efficient

Those with busy schedules can receive a teleconsultation without deviating from their schedule. For example, mothers who have a sick child in the middle of the night can receive medical guidance without having to bring the entire family to a hospital or clinic. Or working professionals can get advice on their way into the office.


Telemedicine allows for immediate access to medical care, from anywhere in the region. Furthermore, patients can now seek timely guidance over the phone for the following, rather than visiting a clinic, and allow them to make an informed decision on their health: l A second opinion; l A question on a previous diagnosis; l Clarification on a prescription label; or l Details surrounding over-the-counter products.

Future of telemedicine

Over time, as the population continues to grow, access to high quality medical care will remain important. It’s an issue that will continue to be faced by many throughout the Middle East, especially those living in areas without direct access to healthcare facilities or providers.

As such, experts agree there is opportunity for the practice of telemedicine and e-health to expand even beyond what it is today. With time, more patients will become aware that they can receive the reassurance and guidance needed to accurately manage their health, over the phone, and begin utilizing telemedicine as their initial medium of healthcare delivery.

National developments, such as this year’s 1st Middle East Conference on Telemedicine & eHealth event, and the 2015 World Telemedicine & eHealth Forum which will take place in Abu Dhabi in March, showcase the growing use of these successful healthcare delivery models. Bearing further testament to the emphasis being placed on telemedicine, mHealth and eHealth in the region, is Etisalat’s recent signing of a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Health (MoH) in support of eHealth, mHealth and the Digital Hospital, an initiative aiming to improve healthcare delivery in the country.

l To learn more about Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Centre and its innovative medical teleconsultation service, visit:

Zero Mothers Die – a global initiative to reduce maternal mortality

The global partnership Zero Mothers Die was officially launched at a highlevel side event during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in October. The initiative aims to save the lives of pregnant women, new mothers and their babies.

The plan behind Zero Mothers Die is to reduce maternal mortality by putting mobile technologies in the hands of these women to increase their access to healthcare information and assist them in having a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.

The world still faces high maternal and child mortality with 300,000 women and 6 million children under the age of five dying every year from preventable or treatable causes. Flagship of the campaign is the Mum’s Phone, a unique mobile phone giving pregnant women access to health messaging services, delivering health information to pregnant women via voice messages in their local languages.

However, the project includes more than just the phone and messaging service. It is also about providing:

l free airtime packages for pregnant women to enable calls with local health workers and facilities, especially in emergencies; l capacity-building and education of local health workers using ICT’s and localized digital content; l mobile money savings scheme to help finance and increase access to skilled care during childbirth; l solar power chargers to provide green energy to charge the mobile phones and bring financial empowerment to pregnant women.

The Zero Mothers Die consortium is composed of Advanced Development for Africa Foundation, Millennia2025 Women and Innovation Foundation and the Universal Doctor Project, in partnership with UNAIDS, The People’s Vision, Airtel and ZMQ.

Zero Mothers Die

 Date of upload: 10th Jan 2015


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