A proof-of-concept telehealth services project launched to provide care for diabetics spread across a vast rural Mississippi area may have answers to the UAE’s diabetes dilemma.

The University of Mississippi Medical Centre (UMMC), unveiled a remote care management project that provides care to diabetes patients using telehealth services, in collaboration with:

Described as a first-of-its-kind innovative project by industry watchers, this telehealth servicess project targets at-risk diabetes patients in underserved rural areas of the Mississippi.

Mississippi was ranked as the unhealthiest state in the US for higher-than-national-average incidences of obesity and diabetes so.

The proof-of-concept pilot project costs about $1.6 million and will recruit over 200 patients in the next few months to provide them with telehealth services for 18 months.

Using mHealth tablets with mobile broadband access, the patients will track and share various diabetic health parameters such as weight, blood pressure and glucose levels using Intel-GE platform.

Using telehealth services, patients will access expertise of the clinicians at the UMMC without having to travel to the far-away medical centre.

The clinicians can monitor the health of all patients at once from afar which helps them provide immediate support to the patients who need it in a much more resource-efficient way.

Launching the project, Governor Phil Bryant said:

“This revolutionary telehealth effort will deliver top-notch medical care to patients in one of Mississippi’s most medically underserved areas, providing a new lifeline for health and disease management. Innovations like this also spur further growth and economic benefit in the medical industry.”

“It’s a concept that has shown promise in other parts of the country,” said Dr. Kristi Henderson, director of the telehealth project. “Because Type 2 Diabetes is one of the biggest chronic-disease challenges in Mississippi, we knew we wanted to focus on that. And GE has the technology to bring care into the patient’s home and let the patient be an engaged partner in their health. This program will serve as a proof of concept as we look to expand this model geographically and to other diseases.”

Mississippi telehealth services project and the UAE

Like the Mississippi state, the UAE also suffers from high incidences of diabetes and obesity.

The number of patients in the Emirates is estimated to be around 0.75 million in 2013.

Reports suggest that due to unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles, the number of diabetics in the UAE is growing at 4%-6% per annum which is twice the global growth rate.

By 2018, the UAE is expected to have more than 0.85 million diabetics.

With the Middle East having six of the world’s top twenty countries with diabetes prevalence, diabetes-related issues took centre stage at the recently concluded Arab Health Congress 2014, held at Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Experts at the Middle East Diabetes Conference, held in the sidelines of the Congress, revealed that over the next 20 years the demand for diabetes-related ailments in the region is expected to grow by 323%.

Delivering a keynote address at the Conference, Professor Maha Barakat, Director General, Health Authority–Abu Dhabi (HAAD), said:

“If we look at statistics of the top 10 countries in terms of absolute numbers of people with diabetes, only Egypt is among the top 10 with 7.5 million people with diabetes. However, if we look at the prevalence of diabetes as a percentage of population, then we will find Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain among the top 10 list. The UAE is 15th worldwide, according to latest estimates from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).”

With the region expected to continue to face shortage of qualified medical personnel to meet the demand, innovative telehealth services need to be pursued.

If the pilot project initiated by the UMMC succeeds in achieving its outcomes, it paves a way for other similar telehealth services providing remote diabetic care management programs across wider geographic areas.

The UAE experimented with mHealth apps that inform users about the lifestyle changes needed to cope with diabetes but they were educative and preventive in nature.

Over the time, the UAE would be hard-pressed to launch initiatives to provide chronic care for an increasing number of diabetics using limited healthcare resources.

In such a case, diabetes telehealth services projects can help manage treatment demand over wide underserved geographic areas by optimally using the available personnel.