Digital health utilises technology to improve health and wellness outcomes. It is not limited to require technology to automate a process. The ultimate goal of digital health is to drive preventive medicine and continuity of care by enabling self-monitoring of one’s health. The Middle East region is an early adaptor of the smartphone and smart technologies. Based on a questionnaire conducted by Cisco in 2014, it revealed that the presence of smartphones in the UAE was at 73.8%. Saudi Arabia followed the UAE by 72.8%, concluding that about three quarters of those countries’ population use smartphones.
Those statistics suggest that the Middle East is a fertile environment for digital health. By utilising digital health a person would be able to monitor health conditions in the body in real-time by using a wearable device, and connecting that device to an app that analyses the results and provides the user with a detailed report.
There is no doubt that the Middle East region is facing health challenges with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension. According to the International Diabetes Federation report, more than 35 million people in the Middle East and North Africa suffer from diabetes, and this number is expected to grow to 72 million by 2040. What further increases the government expenses burden on health is not just the shortage of medical staff and the lack of quality and efficiency of the staff, but also the shortage of beds in hospitals, which makes the patient compelled to have his/her medical treatments outside his/her country and on the expenses of the country.
The issue of self-care in the world in general, and in the Middle East in particular is governed by two factors: (i) education and health awareness; and (ii) the ability to self-monitor one’s health.
It should be important to note that awareness campaigns and media could contribute to raising health awareness; digital health could be a contributing factor to raise awareness. Take for example an app which tracks the distance walked in a specific day, and provides advice on the importance of walking and healthy lifestyle. Such apps play an important role in raising awareness towards health and wellbeing especially that smartphones are now easily accessible to everyone.
Busy schedules make it hard for individuals to monitor their health, and may even result in negligence. But digital health applications could help be constant reminders for better health practices, and monitoring different health conditions such as heart beats or the level of sugar in your blood.
What encourages the adoption of digital health in the Middle East is the increasing interest in health in the region especially that estimates show a growth in the healthcare industry investments which will be more than $150 Billion in 2016. Numerous healthcare events and conferences are carried out in the region that introduce digital health products, like Arab Health that took place earlier this year, and the upcoming Building Healthcare Middle East in Dubai and Saudi Health which will take place in Riyadh in May this year.
The rising interest in such exhibitions and conferences, indicate not only the increase in health awareness in the region, but also the increase of digital health awareness and investment. The issue which still remains, lays in the amount of education and awareness of digital health in the region, which is not consistent with the industry growth. Government health authorities need to utilise the media amongst other tools and increase their efforts and resources in targeting and supporting the development of the digital health industry in the Middle East, which in turn will highlight the importance of digital health to the individual, in addition to attracting more investors and startups to the region.