News Column

Mobile health solutions needed, say experts

June 6, 2014

Samihah Zaman Staff Reporter

Abu Dhabi: As the number of people suffering from chronic diseases grows in the Gulf States there is an urgent need to implement mobile health solutions, healthcare experts said.

The mobile services can regularly check on the condition of patients, but unfortunately the data cannot be shared by multiple healthcare facilities and professionals as they are not standardised, said the health technology experts.

"For example, many applications collect blood glucose levels of patients on a daily basis. But this information is often not sent to a physician who can track changes and advise the patient accordingly," Michael Morgan-Curran, global director of mobile health and diabetes at mobile operators association GSMA, said.

"Moreover, each facility collects this information in a different format. As a result, the patient's medical history cannot be used by another organisation, and each needs to duplicate the data collection process unnecessarily. Patients are also forced to remember all this information accurately and relay it to every new healthcare professional they visit," he added.

Morgan-Curran was speaking on the sidelines of the mHealth summit Middle East last week where government experts and medical professionals met to discuss the trends and challenges in deploying and developing technological healthcare solutions.

Mobile health, also known as mHealth, involves the use of smartphone-connected medical devices, such as glucometers and blood pressure monitors. These can track a patient's vital figures, and also relay the information to healthcare professionals for action.

By 2017, investment in mHealth is expected to increase to Dh84.5 billion, and it will be driven by applications to help control and manage diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, Morgan-Curran said.

"Hospital admissions place a great burden on the healthcare sector. But if mHealth is used to track patients, early intervention can be taken for someone whose blood glucose level is too high, or who is showing symptoms of kidney failure. As a result, the number of hospital admissions can be reduced. Moreover, mHealth can be used for follow-up purposes so that patients are discharged early," he added.

In Europe, mHealth deployment had reduced hospital admission duration by an average of five days, he added.

Studies have also shown that by 2017, 4,000 diabetes-related fatalities can be reduced in the Gulf region with the use of mHealth, and that mHealth-enabled education can help cut care expenditure for Type 2 diabetics by Dh1,109 million.

The focus on mHealth is not lost on UAE healthcare officials, with many regulators and public facilities implementing systems of their own.

Ali Al Ali, director of Information Technology at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), said a smartphone application already allows residents to search for healthcare facilities, check their body mass index or find a physician.

"At present, we are looking into how we can implement screening programmes by securely connecting patients to physicians using their medical devices," he added.

The Dubai Healthcare Authority (DHA) also offers 35 per cent of its electronic services on mobile applications, and expects to provide all of them in 2015, said Arif Ali, senior systems analyst at the DHA. It has also implemented diabetes control in one of its facilities to see whether mHealth can aid treatment.

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Source: Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)

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