The UAE is set to implement a new health care mandate requiring all providers to offer at least one remote service as part of a Smart Digital Health regulatory framework, expected to be launched by the end of 2023. The announcement of the new mandate was made by Sheikha Hassan Al Mansoori, head of Strategy and Investment at the Digital Health Department of the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP), in Dubai in March 2023. Under the framework, health care providers, both in the public and private sectors, would be mandated to offer one of four remote services: remote consulting, prescription of medications, patient monitoring or robotic surgeries. The framework intends to define roles, ensure patient rights and enforce medical responsibility in remote health care services, which are crucial for facilitating medical tourism and technological advancements.

Digitalisation Progress

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Sharjah’s health care sector experienced a rapid shift towards digital solutions as policymakers and service providers attempted to limit the spread of the virus. The pandemic altered the entire landscape of health care delivery, intensifying the pressure on systems and staff due to social distancing, infection control and lockdown measures.

Throughout the health crisis, phone and video consultations were prevalent in Sharjah, and the UAE’s Al Hosn smartphone application facilitated efficient testing, tracing and screening. This rapid digitalisation has proved vital for enhancing health care services in the post-pandemic era. While increased health care spending is crucial, digitalisation helps to limit the strain on physical health facilities, provides flexibility for patients and ensures essential health care services reach even the most remote areas.

The digitalisation process in the health care sector in the UAE and its constituent emirates encompasses paperless patient records, software-enabled diagnostic systems, telemedicine, robotic surgery, e-pharmacy and smart patient-centric approaches, thereby reducing health care expenditure over time.

Strategic Foresight

One of the entities at the forefront of innovation in remote health care delivery in the UAE and Sharjah is Emirates Health Services (EHS), the federal service provider under the MoHP, which operates 49 facilities in Sharjah out of 131 across the country. In February 2023 EHS unveiled its Innovation Strategy 2023-26, focusing on enhancing the sustainability of health-related innovations. It targets the development of local skills, fostering innovation in businesses and creating a robust ecosystem for health care start-ups. By utilising artificial intelligence (AI) to adopt technologies like e-visits, chatbot services, predictive analytics and mobile applications, the EHS is aiming to advance smart health care practices.

In line with this strategy, in January 2023 EHS introduced its Care AI and Digital Twin projects. The Care AI system enables self-monitoring and patient behaviour tracking diagnostics assistance across all EHS-affiliated facilities. The system is designed to continually update and analyse patient data, ensuring strict adherence to safety protocols and delivering improved patient care.

Simultaneously, in collaboration with French multinational Schneider Electric and US-based tech giant Microsoft, EHS is launching the Digital Twin project at Sharjah’s Al Qassimi Hospital. This initiative aims to reduce the hospital’s carbon footprint by minimising energy consumption and maintenance work. The digital twin solution will monitor carbon emissions, predict energy usage and optimise renewable energy sources. Al Qassimi Hospital – the largest EHS tertiary care facility in the UAE – has also been a pioneer in the field of robotic surgery. In September 2021 the hospital announced it had performed 12 robotic surgeries on pelvic conditions in five days, making it the first institution to perform more than 150 robotic surgeries in the UAE since the Robotics Surgeries Programme in Gynaecology and Obstetrics was launched in February 2019.