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The virtual health revolution: what’s coming and how could it change healthcare

Everything is going digital. We’re in an age where connectivity and instant solutions are king, and every sector from education to healthcare are searching for greater ways to deliver services in a way that’s more convenient, more accessible, and more personalized to the end user. Terms like telehealth, telemedicine, and virtual health are being talked about more and more these days, but just how aware are people of what these are and how they help?

This Pacific Prime Dubai article will look to go over the basics of what’s happening in the virtual health space, and the types of problems in healthcare that technology hopes to solve.

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Understanding the new digital healthcare age

Every now and again, something new and techy pops up in healthcare news. A new ultrasound that offers 3D-imaging of babies, a 3D printer that can produce customized prosthetics for patients, doctors offering patients consultations via Skype on home tablets, smartphones, and computers. This new age places more value on anything that seems Amazon-esque, whereas trips to the doctors are like brick and mortar bookstores. So what are we really talking when we talk about a digital healthcare revolution?

Here are a few quick explanations of common terms used in the digital and virtual health space, as well as examples of where you’re most likely to see such innovations:

Telemedicine

Telemedicine has actually been around since the 1950s, and is a really basic term that covers the remote diagnosis and treatment of people using telecommunications technology. It includes anything from the Skype-consultations mentioned earlier, to things as simple as nursing hotlines that offer triage and medical advice over the phone. It’s been a huge help to plenty of people living or working in remote locations, and provides populations with more affordable health support outside of traditional clinic hours.

One of the more recent telemedicine developments includes a joint programme called 24-7 Population Health Management that was launched by the Dubai Healthcare Authority [DHA], UAE-based telecom provider Etisalat, and Mobile Doctors 24-7. The programme offers an integrated and interactive mobile app that is staffed with a wide range of medical professionals in order to provide people with round-the-clock healthcare advice, and reduce unnecessary overutilization at physical clinics.

Telehealth

While also being a feature of health systems since the 60s, telehealth refers to the ability of medical organisations to not only monitor patients health, but also to communicate and transfer notes and recommendations to other clinics or providers quickly. This means that patients aren’t left waiting for health information to be shared between providers, and medical professionals can make quicker health assessments. Furthermore, with telehealth, information that can help with the training of medical staff and the quality of the healthcare they deliver is more accessible.

It’s the “behind the scenes” stuff that gets done by hospital and clinic staff that supports your doctor in his or her treatment of you. Your CT scan in Dubai might be sent instantly to a specialist in Germany who looks over the imaging, and offers advice and suggestions to your local expert. Your case might become part of a chunk of data that researchers in Singapore use to find better treatments for your condition.

While there are very obvious upsides to telehealth, privacy can still be a big concern for many. Who’s sharing your information? How are they sharing it, and where are they sharing it to? The good news is that the DHA introduced rules in 2017 that mandated that telehealth services in Dubai must obtain a license to operate in the Emirate. This means that the privacy and sharing of personal information is likely to be protected by law, with the onus on being on telehealth providers to maintain strict security measures on data storage.

The virtual health revolution

Virtual health gets a section on its own here, because it’s not just a single aspect of digital development in healthcare; it more broadly can represent just about everything. In fact, one of our insurance partners has a succinct way of describing what virtual healthcare is:

“Virtual healthcare is all about delivering a primary health care model – offering a single, coordinated, trustworthy health care service, covering the needs of every patient.”
Aetna

Technology is an important feature of what makes up virtual health, but it’s still only a tool the health sector uses to achieve a more modern form of service delivery for all participants. It takes the developing products and services of telehealth and telemedicine, and builds a virtual interface around it all that provides greater accessibility and communication for both patients and specialists.

The internet, smart devices, and big data will all play a part in both real-time monitoring of peoples’ health, reporting and assessing it against known medical research, and allow physicians anywhere in the world to access the information they need to make an accurate diagnosis of conditions as quickly as possible. Payment and insurance authorization can become instantaneous through online client reference checks and direct billing,

Virtual health, in a sense, looks to take the various pieces of digitization that are transforming separate areas of healthcare delivery, administration, and education, and connect them all in a way that makes the best use of the data and accessibility becoming increasingly available in our digitized world. Think of virtual health as the coach of a team of players who weren’t always working as a team.

The expected benefits of a virtual health world

We’re digitizing and making virtual the health sector for the same reason we do any other; to create greater efficiencies and reduce the cost of doing things. There are plenty of ways we’re seeing a shift to a more virtual health model making positive changes in the health sector today, but there are still many solutions out there that we don’t know exist – because we have yet to find them.

One of the easiest ways to think about how the medical world is set to change is to think of who that change affects, and how:

  • Patients: The increase of smart device ownership means round-the-clock access to both databases of medical knowledge and the ability to speak to medical professionals around the world. Booking and keeping track of appointments can be streamlined with personal calendar apps, and health tools such as step-and-heart rate counters and built-in device cameras can provide real-time biological data to help with the diagnosis of a medical problem. Digital wallets can help organize payment of services, or networks can arrange confirmation of insurance coverage quickly – with direct billing to take care of the costs.
  • Providers: Hospitals, clinics, and physicians can reduce unnecessary overutilization by promoting preventative health measures in people’s’ homes (via devices), or by supporting in-home consultations. Administration costs can be reduced by going paperless, and the speed by which processes can be undertaken can increase. Doctors will have access to global support via networks of specialists and experts, with the ability to get extra opinions on scan results made easier through online image sharing and video chat. Big data looks set to make innovations and efficiencies easier to find as data becomes easier to mine and analyze.
  • Insurers: Virtual health means insurers will have access to a wealth of data by which they can more accurately assess risk, and price their policies. This could mean better benefits for lower premiums, and more personalized and targeted policies offered to individuals. Online portals and networks mean that administrative duties can be faster without the lag of paper-based processes, and increasingly connect systems with healthcare providers that will make the insurance experience more streamlined.
  • Private Businesses: Managing and monitoring the employee benefits of a large group of people can be made simpler and more effective through digital online systems. HR staff and key decision makers will have better support to manage their platforms without the need to invest too heavily in understanding the health and insurance industry. Wellness and flex-benefits can become more affordable as the insurance sector finds ways to better integrate these into traditional health plans.
  • Governments: The benefits of a better virtual health model mean that understanding population health, regulating and governing healthcare providers, and creating public health policy can be done with greater confidence and intent thanks to things like big data.

On one level, the main benefits of digitization are seen where our old, cumbersome processes are made more streamlined. Another level sees some huge strides being made as global digital health entrepreneurs find completely new ways of diagnosing and treating illnesses, reorganizing health structures, and creating new products to better facilitate the growing framework of a virtual health world.

Around the corner or still over the horizon?

Depending on who you ask, the virtual world is either on the horizon, around the corner, or right here, right now. One patient might think the digital health revolution has already begun with the ability to get their skin checked via online video, while another may think that’s simply old tech repurposed. Insurers have been heavily investing in online tools, such as member portals and plan comparison tools, but is there still space for those apps to do more for customers?

The truth is likely that the virtual health journey has been coming for a long time, but – just as with the speed of tech development overall – the seismic change of the digital revolution has only just begun. Dubai has been touted as a UAE leader in digital healthcare, but it’s also one of the areas of international interest, as the Government and health sector all strive to meet new and old issues with modern digital solutions.

For individual and corporate employee benefit clients, you’ll have likely seen some impacts on the way you experience both insurance and healthcare as technology has been taken up in the sector; but is that technology reducing your costs, improving your service experience, and making an overall positive change? Sometimes it can help to talk to an expert to find out the reality of what’s out there.

Pacific Prime Dubai: experts in insurance and healthcare

When it comes to looking ahead, you can trust in Pacific Prime Dubai to guide you competently. We think it’s important to not only know what sort of market and sector our clients are engaged with now, but also what they might experience in the future. That’s what helps us ensure that you get the sort of coverage you need, and that it’s sustainable in the long term moving forward.

If you’re looking for an individual insurance plan, or an attractive employee benefits platform for your company, give our consultants a call. Pacific Prime Dubai offers free quotes to individuals, or will happily meet and provide businesses with a market review that includes their current benefits plan. When you need a partner to help you simplify insurance, reach out to our team today!

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