Telemedicine industry in Gulf posts healthy growth

MANAMA: Telemedicine industry leaders in Bahrain and the wider GCC have reported a significant rise in demand during the Covid-19 period.

Research from local think-tank Derasat shows that government agencies across the region, including the Health Ministry and National Health Regulatory Authority, have played a key role in driving healthcare providers to offer telemedicine services, which include the delivery of remote clinical services, from teleconsultations through to online prescriptions, via computer and smartphone.

The report follows the announcement by vHealth, a UAE-based telehealth provider, that has seen a 500 per cent increase in the usage of their app between March and September 2020.

The report suggests there are multiple reasons behind the fast adoption, with necessity being one, but improved privacy around traditionally sensitive issues like mental health being another.

According to Sarmad Ahmad, managing director of Bahrain-based mental health start-up Saaya Health, there are few Arabic speaking therapists within the region, but many more globally, which has been another reason for the rise in demand for online services.


Mr Ahmad


He has also seen a big rise in GCC businesses adopting Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), to support their mental health and the challenges of living through the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has been a gamechanger for attitudes towards treatment of mental health across the region. I would say we have moved forward 5-10 years in the space of less than one year. We have seen an accelerated cultural shift and there is a new support network growing up for personal therapy, and for EAP. We have seen a lot of customers from outside Bahrain, and in particular, from Saudi Arabia, who are attracted by our telemedicine ecosystem and the capacity we have to reach out to international providers.”

Saaya Health is one of a number of telemedicine start-ups in Bahrain that also includes Cura, Doctori and Weyak.

Cura’s operation director Dr Mohamed AlGassab asserts the pandemic is helping to raise awareness about the industry while helping consumers overcome their reservations.

“Telemedicine is a relatively new concept to the local market, and initially there were some concerns over reliability and data privacy. However, the unprecedented surge in usage is helping consumers overcome their reservations, as they are actually trying the products and finding them to be safe and convenient. Necessity has also significantly boosted awareness around the technology, not just for consumers but also investors. This will be an exciting space to watch in the near future in terms of fundraising,” he added.


Mr Mahmood


Concurring with the view, Doctori chief executive Ahmed Mahmood said the heightened demand throughout the pandemic actually helped them improve their product.

“Dealing with an elevated number of consultations allowed us to enhance our product, streamline our internal company processes, and stabilise our product in terms of technology. Moreover, we have seen a number of first-time users who turned to us owing to the necessities of the pandemic translate into ‘regulars’, turning to the app on a weekly basis for follow-up sessions with their healthcare providers. The pandemic has served as a catalyst for digitalisation for all sectors across the board. It is hardly surprising that this would be the case for healthcare too.”


Dr Al Ubaydli


Derasat’s head of research Dr Omar Al Ubaydli feels many doctors have switched to telemedicine effortlessly and a lot of the previous investments in digital infrastructure are starting to pay off.

“Remote payments are very easy in Bahrain and everyone has high-speed Internet access, and consequently there’s been a rapid transition to telemedicine that’s very effective and sustained,” he added.




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