Two of the most prominent players in the UAE’s private healthcare arena have introduced telehealth services this week, in a bid to ease strain on the country’s hospitals and clinics, as well as encourage the public to stay home during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Aster DM Healthcare – which operates in multiple territories in the GCC, and is an emerging player in India – has launched a free “tele-consultation” service across its Medcare, Aster Hospital and Aster Clinic brands; while HealthHub – a brand of Al-Futtaim Health that comes under the wider Al-Futtaim Group – has launched a standalone free telehealth service connected to its HealthHub by Al-Futtaim clinics.
Both services are open to patients who require non-emergency care, with Aster DM Healthcare’s service allowing patients to “remotely consult qualified doctors for all general ailments” via video call. HealthHub, meanwhile, “allows patients direct access to their doctor or [another] healthcare provider via a telehealth system for all their chronic or non-emergency care”. The two providers will work with their respective pharmacies to ensure home delivery of medication and other prescribed requirements.
Those seeking information on the COVID-19 outbreak can either reach a medical professional through the Aster DM Healthcare call centre, or via an online self-assessment tool (followed by an online video-consultation, if required) on HealthHub’s website.
While it is not clear how long both services will remain complimentary, Aster DM Healthcare did confirm in a statement that “in the long-term, it would become a paid service with access to wider medical specialties”.
WHY IT MATTERS
At present, UAE authorities have implemented strict measures to limit movement in order to proactively prevent and reduce infection, while also managing its national sterilisation programme. Residents are restricted to daytime movement for essential activities, such as shopping for essential grocery supplies or medicines, as well as to perform essential jobs. The sterilisation programme, meanwhile, requires all residents to stay at home between 8pm and 6am every day until at least 5 April.
The launches come as the UAE government calls for the country’s corporate sector to absorb some of the burden of the coronavirus outbreak. As well as a telehealth service, Al Futtaim Health is also introducing six “drive-thru” COVID-19 testing centres, the first of which opened in Dubai Festival City on 29 March. The five-minute test, which is conducted from a person’s car, is priced at the “cost price” of AED 370 ($100), and will be first reserved for employees and their families, before opening to the public.
ON THE RECORD
“The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic calls for measures to make healthcare services accessible to everyone in the community. Home quarantine, social distancing and stay-at-home [initiatives] announced by authorities are crucial measures to contain the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr Azad Moopen, founder chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare. “In the circumstances where people are unable to move out of their homes and offices, we wanted to ensure that our patients continue to receive the best possible care.
“The launch of Aster Tele Consultation will hopefully provide everyone with access to their doctors remotely along with supply of medicines at their door steps, by Aster Pharmacy in Dubai. We sincerely hope that this will help people in accessing the much needed essential out-patient healthcare service. Any patient requiring treatment shall be referred to the few clinics which remain open as well as to the Aster hospitals, if warranted.”
Dr Haidar Al Yousuf, managing director of Al Futtaim Health, told Gulf News: “As of now, the Festival City testing centre and others which will open subsequently will cater only to eligible Al Futtaim employees and their families which means the group covers thousands members of the community.
“Subsequently, all the testing centres will open for the general public as well. It is a must that all persons fulfil the online self-assessment on the HealthHub website to assess eligibility as per the criteria so that these critical health services are prioritised to those who need them the most”.
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