Health Services on a High

On-demand health services are spreading fast around the world, and our region is no exception.

The Internet is changing the way patients seek medical information and care. But ‘Dr. Google’ can’t offer a professional diagnosis. That’s why patients are seeking out on-line services that host real doctors and certified medical professionals to answer their questions, book clinic appointments, or even have face-to-face consultations.

A host of companies have appeared in our region over recent years that are successfully tapping into this rapidly developing field.

Jordan’s Altibbi is one of the region’s largest digital health platforms, serving over 6 million users every month. It operates across 10 markets and claims to have 1.5 million pages of Arabic medical content and a Q&A platform currently answering over 1,000 daily medical questions, by utilizing a network of 12,000 verified doctors. In September, it announced a new round of funding worth $6.5 million.

Another major player is Palestine’s WebTeb.com. It includes a directory of doctors in 17 Arab countries and seems to be focused on content, rather than actually offering a platform for digitally delivered medical services.

The Dubai-based Health at Hand portal charges a flat rate of AED 150 per minute for a video consultation with a doctor. It raised more than $4 million through two funding rounds. It plans to introduce e-prescriptions, home drug delivery and to integrate a subscription-based model for insurers and corporates.

Other companies are also making a big impact by arranging appointments to see doctors in clinics. These include DabaDoc in Morocco, Doctoruna in the UAE, and Cura in Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s Vezzeta recently focused its attention on Jordan, after receiving $500,000 to expand into neighboring markets.

Looking at the bigger picture, digital delivery of health services addresses the issues of inequality, not only by income status, but also by gender. Studies show that women have less access to healthcare systems in our region. Digital technologies make health services more accessible to such women and families, and more affordable. It also offers them the privacy that may be required to seek consultation regarding a variety of physical and mental health issues.

Statista predicts the global mobile health market will soon be worth $21 billion. Our region, with its increasingly alarming levels of obesity and diabetes, will clearly provide a major chunk of this.

So perhaps the answer to this region’s upcoming health woes lies in more ‘digitization’ of health information inquiry and accessibility to medical services delivery.

Investors and digital health entrepreneurs are betting that our phones and PCs could actually save us, provided we get off the desk or couch when we’re using them; and assuming they’re not the reason we’re sitting down in the first place.