x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE has the ability and the will to lead the world, claims expert

The UAE has a chance to embrace a digital age of mobile health that will leave the West “chasing the UAE’s tails”, says Brian de Francesca, chief executive of the Dubai-based mobile health company Ver2.

DUBAI // Health care in the UAE can leapfrog its peers in the West if the country focuses on mobile technology, a conference has heard.

Countries deemed world leaders in health care, such as the US and the UK, are still mired in the 20th century, experts say.

The UAE has a chance to embrace a digital age of mobile health that will leave the West “chasing the UAE’s tails”, said Brian de Francesca, the chief executive of the Dubai-based mobile health company Ver2.

This can be achieved by refusing to copy and paste western methods and by building a unique model, he said.

It comes as the Ministry of Health announced it had signed a deal with Etisalat and du to provide mobile health services to patients with conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Speaking at the Arab Health Congress on Tuesday, Mr de Francesca said if the UAE focused on moving care outside the walls of traditional settings, such as hospitals and doctors’ offices, and adopted mobile health (m-health) then it could become a global leader.

“The US has taken one baby step to digitalisation and their friends in the UK have not fared much better,” he said. “They are not doing anything.

“The problem is they have 150 years of health infrastructure legacy that you have to untangle. When you try to put something new and different into an infrastructure like this it rejects it.”

The UAE has the advantage as a young and growing country to embrace a different approach to health care, he said.

“We have a blank slate and we have all the component parts,” he said. “In addition there is leadership with the proven vision to do what they set out to do. There is nothing in our way. This is a perfect opportunity.

“We do not want to cut and paste western health care. We need to copy best practices and leave the rest behind.”

Investing in practices where doctors can treat their patients wirelessly, that document a patient’s condition in real time or will allow specialists to be able to advise on an emergency situation from a remote location will enable the UAE to become an “international centre for excellence for digitalisation for medicine”, Mr de Francesca said.

“For example, presently if a doctor is concerned during a woman’s pregnancy, he might say there are some risks so we are going to admit you to hospital and you are going to lie in bed for two weeks.

“The problem is while she is there she will get bed sores, she could pick up some hospital infection and the hospital stay is at the cost to the payroller. Then the mother delivers and nothing happens and everything was fine.

“But what about sensors that doctors could put on her stomach that can manage her heartbeat and her baby’s heartbeat, for example? Sensors that I, as her physician, can monitor 24 hours a day on my iphone, all for about US$5 (Dh18) a day.

“That is mobile health – one example of thousands and this region has a great opportunity both to provide something really significant and to take a leading position in health care. The West will be chasing our tails.”

Mr de Francesca’s address at the big data conference came as the Ministry of Health announced it had signed a two-year agreement with telecoms providers Etisalat and du at Arab Health to deliver an m-health service that will be available across the UAE to support those with diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

It comes under the UAE’s Vision 2021 project that aims to provide world-class health care for the local and expatriate community.

The m-health programme will be able to track a patient’s condition, offer remote medical diagnosis and monitoring, patient education, tele-health and medical video conferencing.

“This partnership represents our commitment to delivering high quality mobile health services to all Emiratis and expatriates regardless of location,” said Abdul Rahman Al Owais, the Minister of Health. “Mobile health technology is at the heart of our strategy to deliver medical services that tackle the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.”

More than 85,000 healthcare professionals are in the emirate this week for Arab Health Congress 2014 – the largest medical exhibition and congress in the Middle East.

The congress runs until Thursday at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

jbell@thenational.ae