Telehealth continues to be a promising healthcare model within the GCC region. More specifically, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are some of the countries across the region that are actively leading in advancing modern healthcare services. Recent reports indicate that the governments of both countries are applying vigorous frameworks to enhance the development of telehealth services.

With the advances in telehealth, new data protection laws are also being enacted, as each country strives to protect its citizens. This means that investors must conduct due diligence when investing in modern healthcare in the region, specifically given the increased regulations across the industry. Currently, remote patient monitoring (RPM), Health, and virtual visits are some of the healthcare technologies that are poised to thrive in the buoyant GCC market.

The Trends and Challenges of Telehealth in the UAE and Saudi Arabia

In societies such as KSA or the UAE, where relational connections are esteemed and direct specialist-patient communication is standard, challenges in employing technology will inherently bring with it challenges.

Regularly, patients are concerned of the doctor’s experience, the impact of innovation, security, and protection during sessions. Aversion toward the utilization of innovation is driven by age, orientation, and religion.

Likewise, the absence of information or involvement with the innovation and the requirement for preparing are normal obstructions. Likewise, a few suppliers assume the use of this innovation with shortcomings (e.g., diagnosing could take more time), loss of income, and compensation troubles (e.g., most patients pay through cash on hand).

However, telehealth is a promising model for medical care administrations in KSA and the UAE. The market which incorporates virtual visits, mHealth, and distant patient observing are projected to reach $536.5 million by 2025 in the UAE at a yearly development rate of 28.2 percent. In Saudi Arabia, the market is projected to reach $415.4 million enrolling development at a 24.2 percent CAGR north of 2019 figures.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, telehealth’s degree is augmenting as social distancing has provoked an unexpected interest in contactless medicine and made it a significant innovation to assess, oversee, and follow patients without in-person assessments.

Government-led Digital Health Initiatives

Public-private partnership models, as well as consumer-centric services, have increased and all contributed to the increased telehealth demand in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Digital Health Strategy 2018, launched by KSA, and the Innovation Strategy 2019-2021, launched by the UAE, have been the chief drivers of digital healthcare transformation in each of the countries.

Both nations have prioritized preventive care and wellness to boost investment toward social determinants of health (SDOH) projects, resulting in immense growth prospects for companies operating within the telehealth sector.

Telehealth Legal Regulations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia

UAE

At the federal level, the extension of Cabinet Decision No. 40/2019 on the Implementing Regulation of Federal Decree-Law No. 4/2016 on clinical risk (“ICT Health Law”), named “Controls and Conditions of Providing Remote Health Services” (“Federal Telehealth Regulations”) explicitly covers a scope of telehealth administrations including:

  • Distant clinical interview and solution
  • Remote prognosis
  • Remote clinical observing and mediation

The Abu Dhabi Department of Health’s (“AD DOH”) Standards for the Provision of Tele-Monitoring Services apply in Abu Dhabi, and the “Dubai HA Standards”, or Dubai Health Authority’s Principles for Telehealth Services are the vital pieces of guideline/strategy to be alluded to.

There are additional guidelines that apply explicitly to suppliers situated inside the Dubai Healthcare City free zone in the UAE, explicitly Health Data Protection Regulation No 7 of 2013.

KSA

Across Saudi Arabia, the pertinent authorities have given choices, methods, and rules to manage the utilization of telehealth. This incorporates but is not restricted to the following:

  • Dated 25/04/1441H, the Ministry of Health Decision No. 7/88is an authority instrument that supports KSA’s other telemedicine law, the Regulation Governing Telehealth
  • The country’s earlier telemedicine law or “Telehealth Regulation” also dubbed the Regulation Governing Telehealth issued by the National Health Information Center (“NHIC”)

The Telehealth Regulations require that an administration organization direct and screen telemedicine and is the Saudi Telemedicine Unit of Excellence, which will work inside the Saudi Health Council’s NHIC.