It is rare to hear about telehealth from the Middle East, so it is refreshing to see a report dedicated to this subject. “Enabling Telehealth: Lessons for the Gulf” is a new report from the Intelligence Unit of The Economist which identifies principles and practices relevant to the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) region. GCC is a regional intergovernmental political and economic union consisting of all Arab states in the Persian Gulf except for Iraq – i.e. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
The report has been commissioned by Philips and studies the environment in which telehealth operates – the policies, infrastructure, associated skills and institutional users. The Economist interviewed several experts for this report: the director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, associate Dean of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Connected Care, chief medical officer of the European Health Telematics Association, a senior lecturer in professional healthcare education at the Open University and CEO of the International Alliance of Patients’ Organisations.
As the report points out in its summary, “… access to telehealth depends not only on telehealth technology. Policy frameworks must be modernised, communications infrastructures such as broadband and mobile network coverage must be improved, and skillsets – both of clinicians and patients – need to be strengthened.
Five key findings in the report are
- Ensuring access to telehealth depends not just on the technologies, but on the broader enabling environment, especially policy harmonisation, communications infrastructure, and skills.
- Governments should consider more efficient licensing if telehealth is to enable patients to access medical expertise outside of their state, province or country. Here it cites the examples of USA and Europe. The state by state licensing in the US is a barrier to telehealth and the cross-state harmonisation in the EU helps telehealth.
- Telehealth provision must go hand-in-hand with Internet infrastructure rollout, since vulnerable populations are the lowest users of the Internet.
- Focus on systems integration: “… build usable systems with the requisite security and privacy” which “work seamlessly with those already in place”.
- Health providers may need support in working with new technologiesThe full report is available to download here.