All-Access Healthcare: Serving the Community by Embracing Telemedicine
For Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres, what matters most is demonstrating clinical excellence and quality care for all patients. If you’re stuck behind the dollar, you lose focus on what matters most. If you create a seamless, high-quality patient experience, the dollar will follow.
During the pandemic, that strategy and philosophy helped Medcare create a modern healthcare success story.
A Hybrid Approach to Healthcare
Medcare is a premium healthcare network based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and is part of the Aster DM Healthcare Group. Medcare consists of four hospitals and 15 medical centres with four new centres opening in 2021. As Medcare Group CEO, I oversee the entire group, handling everything from strategy, business sustainability and continuity, and business diversity. I’m also responsible for digitizing and differentiating our patient experience.
One of our goals is for Medcare to be top of mind whenever a patient needs care. To do this, we expanded our reach access across multiple channels, which allows patients to receive care in the easiest, most seamless way possible—no matter their communication preference or technical abilities.
Pre-pandemic, the majority of our patient care centred around in-person consultations scheduled via a call centre or chatbot. As we moved forward on our digital journey, we aimed at further enhancing our online appointment solution to include a seamless booking experience with appointment reminders, cancellations, and rescheduling. We also began reaching patients through WhatsApp, facilitating more connections to our in-person services.
Prior to the pandemic, our vision was to reach every patient. In the spring of 2020, we were close to launching a digital platform, teleMEDCARE, with the help of Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program. Through teleMEDCARE, patients can directly and immediately speak with a doctor in a call centre-like environment. That made it a unique selling proposition for Medcare and Cisco.
The fact that we had already engaged with Cisco on a plan for teleconsultations made everything a little easier when the pandemic struck.
Collaborating on a Pandemic Solution
With the pandemic underway, we had a newfound urgency to provide availability to our patients, regardless of the financial investment required. We decided to accelerate the timeline for our teleMEDCARE launch. Instead of being frustrated or frazzled because of the situation, everyone on the Medcare and Cisco CDA UAE teams rose to the challenge. The Cisco CDA UAE team sped into action and provided the support we needed, to the point where the financials weren’t even part of the conversation. We all felt a collective responsibility to ensure the telehealth service would be available to the community as soon as possible, and that it would stay available throughout the health crisis.
To collaborate efficiently, we held daily meetings and actively tracked our progress. We expected the process to be challenging, but culturally, both teams were aligned. Everyone displayed great dedication, motivation, and passion that drove us to success. Within six days from deciding to compress our timeline, we were live with a beta version.
New Solutions, New Approach: Securing Buy-in at All Levels
At first, patients had to download Cisco Webex and register to dial in and connect with a healthcare professional. But there were multiple operators involved in addition to Cisco, so the process of receiving and transferring calls was unclear. We also had challenges with human resources. Medcare is a fairly large organization with 400 doctors, 700 nurses, and another 800 staff members. At the onset of the pandemic, Medcare had to stop elective treatments and in-person outpatient consultations. Everybody changed their job description overnight, and some people weren’t able to fulfill their duties at all.
But, just as the Cisco and Medcare teams jumped in to contribute, so did our healthcare workers. We experienced an overwhelming response from both volunteers and doctors who made themselves available for virtual patient consultations. Our doctors had to adopt the new technology, so we also had to train them remotely. Cisco played an instrumental role not only by providing the technology, but also the personnel support, training, and onboarding, as well as the backend administrative process of enlisting doctors and other users.
The passion and the drive people felt to support the community in these difficult times have made a massive difference. We weren’t simply pushing people to use a certain technology to improve our bottom line. We were on a mission and our healthcare professionals felt the call of duty. Getting teleMEDCARE off the ground was a collective effort, and the culture and engagement made it a success.
A Seamless Experience for Patients, Doctors, and Admins Alike
Over the next few months, we rolled out more features, such as live video consultations where patients can consult a doctor without an advanced appointment. All they have to do is click on the “Call Doctor Live Now’’ button on the Medcare website to connect with a doctor.
We also began to offer virtual queueing, which gives patients the option to receive a courtesy return call from the system instead of waiting on hold to connect with a doctor. Another feature is an appointment booking video consultation, which allows patients to arrange a consultation if they know the type of specialist they require.
We also improved our identification methods. During the first phase of teleMEDCARE, we couldn't identify who was calling us. The call agent always had to ask the patient for their details. Eventually, we integrated teleMEDCARE with our hospital information system, so when an agent picked up the call, they could identify the caller from their phone number. This made the user experience more seamless and also saved time for the patient.
With teleMEDCARE, we service patients via two streams: The first is for people who want to learn more about COVID-19 and ask about any personal situations, concerns, or symptoms. The second stream addresses patients who need standard care for new ailments, prescription refills, or chronic conditions or illnesses.
Now, you download teleMEDCARE, fill in a few details, click “Call Doctor Live Now,” and you’re immediately connected to the agents who understand who you are, why you're calling, and put you through to the right doctor. By the time patients reach the doctor, the doctor has been briefed on their situation, and can also see their medical files if they are an existing Medcare patient. This ensures our doctors spend more time on actual clinical work and not administrative work.
Meeting Patients at Home
Through our digital platform, Medcare has provided 15,000 teleconsultations. We also instituted a homecare service and have made about 16,000 home care visits since the pandemic started. This service has been vital, not only for lab tests, but also for at-home COVID-19 tests, vaccinations, and nurses and doctors visits.
We also established a new pharmacy delivery. With it, patients can complete an entire primary care transaction, including consultation, payment, and medication. The desire for this service continues to grow, even as in-person business and activities resume.
Combining telemedicine, teleconsultations, and these additional services have created both tangible and intangible positive outcomes. Perhaps the most notable is increasing convenience and flexibility for patients to easily book and reschedule appointments. They don’t have to rearrange their day if something changes in their schedule, and they can stay home if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, reducing exposure and transmission.
Our services also reduce the costs and time spent on patient transportation. This is especially important for those who don’t have a vehicle and who, before, had to rely on other transportation means to get to their appointments.
This project has been a major breakthrough for us, boosting the Medcare brand and showcasing our capabilities. With our new platform, Medcare has also differentiated ourselves from our competitors in the region, who don’t offer telemedicine at the click of a button. We’ve attracted a lot of new patients and brought relief to the community. One of our key philosophies to provide quality care, regardless of anyone’s eligibility to receive the service. We don’t turn away anyone who needs healthcare, and teleMEDCARE makes it easier than ever for those people to access our services.
A Timely Response to Changing Times
When you want to deliver a technology solution, you should always go to the best, and there wasn't any better than Cisco to help us deliver teleMEDCARE. Our partnership with Cisco and involvement with the CDA initiative exemplified the true meaning of collaboration, social responsibility, and the willingness of two organizations to come together and cater to the community in the most uncertain times.
We're grateful for Cisco’s contributions, and we appreciate the team effort that made this solution a success. Cisco’s CDA initiative also made it possible to keep the dollar as a byproduct of the solution, and focus solely on our patient community.
A shift in healthcare services is happening as we speak. The physical and the virtual healthcare environments complement each other; one does not eliminate the other. As we go forward, people with simpler, more routine tasks may gravitate toward the virtual route, reserving in-person resources for people with more complex health situations. We must meet patients where they are, and we want our patients to feel confident in whichever decision they make.