In an effort to prevent road accidents, the UAE is planning to revoke licenses of drivers with severe chronic conditions. But with a long-term focus on using digital health to manage chronic diseases, hopefully more drivers can stay behind the wheel.

Embedded steering wheel sensors can take your vital signs, warn of impending heart attacks, detect drowsiness and basically save lives.

But if you are suffering from a chronic condition in the UAE, you may not have the chance to drive one of these advanced cars, or any vehicle for that matter.

Citing public safety, the Ministry of Interior recently said that it may either suspend or revoke the driver’s licenses of people with severe cases of chronic disorders.

An inter-agency working group has been formed to come up with a list of conditions, but a report says people with epilepsy, Parkinson's, kidney failure, stroke, heart disease, post-brain surgeries and diabetes may be prohibited from driving—depending on a doctor’s evaluation.

The move comes after a spike of accidents in recent years involving people with chronic conditions—including one in 2012 when a man with severe diabetes fell into a coma behind the wheel and rammed another car, killing one person.

Growing Problem of Chronic Disease

The measure to keep these drivers off the highways underscores the growing problem of chronic disease in the UAE. Reflecting a worrisome global trend, obesity rates are skyrocketing in the Middle East due to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.

More than half of UAE residents have a BMI (body mass index) ratio that’s categorized as being overweight or obese per the NMC Health Index.

According to Global Health Middle East, the deluge of non-communicable chronic diseases will cost the GCC countries $68 billion in 2030, if countries there focus on treating, rather than preventing chronic disorders.

Finding Solutions in Digital Health

But while the numbers are grim, the UAE and the GCC region have been gearing up to stem the tide.

Gulf countries have not skimped on investments, pumping millions of dollars into projects to build specialty medical centers and improve digital health offerings—an effective strategy for dealing with chronic diseases. 

The UAE has made significant investments in digital health in recent years, with many more projects in the pipeline.

Leveraging Digital Literacy

The government is also leveraging digital literacy. Per a nuviun article: “The Middle East has a 96% mobile penetration, 46% smart phone usage and 40% Internet connectivity,” and many have access to a range of health and wellness apps—as well as online support and social networking groups for people with chronic illnesses.

The UAE in particular has emphasized mHealth initiatives—including giving out 3,000 Android devices to patients who can access what the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) describes as

“an ecosystem of health services, where an app will act as the central go-to point for access to relevant, personalized mobile health records, wellness devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone, and health sensors for remote patient monitoring and chronic disease management.”

The Ministry of Health also signed an agreement earlier this year with telecom providers Etisalat and du to provide a host of mHealth services such as:

  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Medical video conferencing
  • Telemedicine and telehealth systems
  • Services to support patients with diabetes, obesity, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

Making a Difference with Telemedicine

The government wisely promotes telemedicine. A recent analysis of CHF, stroke and COPD patients revealed that

“the preponderance of the evidence produced by telemedicine studies points to significant trends in reducing hospitalization and emergency department visits and preventing and/or limiting illness severity and episodes, resulting in improved health outcomes.”

Doctors in the UAE are remotely connecting with patients through these modalities. One group, Mobile Doctors 24-7, has partnered with EHR giant Cerner to allow patients to access their medical records and consult their providers remotely.

“Given the UAE government’s strong initiatives around development and digitization of the health care industry, we are honored to support Mobile Doctors as they enhance their patient advocate system to offer world-class services for the community,”

Michael Pomerance, vice president and managing director, Cerner Middle East and Africa, said in a statement.

“This agreement will enable the UAE communities to improve their health and wellness using the latest mobile information technology. MD 24-7 is our first relationship in the UAE’s private health care sector and we look forward to other collaborations.”

By using a digital health strategy to fight chronic conditions, the UAE can make the most of new technologies to enhance prevention, reduce disease—and hopefully help more drivers stay behind the wheel.