Thanks to a partnership with Emirates Health Services, UChicago Medicine physicians are traveling to the United Arab Emirates to consult on patient cases and advise on protocols that will help develop more consistent and robust specialty care and infrastructure.
While UChicago Medicine has had a relationship with the UAE’s ministry of health for more than a decade, a memorandum of understanding signed between UChicago Medicine and Emirates Health Services in February advanced that relationship, according to Diala Atassi, Executive Director of International Programs for UChicago Medicine.
UChicago Medicine sent its first physician ambassador to the UAE in September: Tareq Kass-Hout, MD, is a highly skilled stroke neurologist who is the inpatient medical director and director of neuro-endovascular services for UChicago Medicine’s Department of Neurology.
“I’m very proud to be part of this project and to provide services not just here in the city, but across borders,” said Kass-Hout.
As a young country formally established in 1971, the UAE has rapidly developing cities where healthcare has lagged behind, according to Kass-Hout. “It’s good that they’ve identified this gap and they’re partnering with us to find solutions to close that gap,” he said.
During his week-long trip, Kass-Hout visited three hospitals and consulted on 25 to 40 cases, predominantly stroke patients, at each hospital. “Most of the cases were very complex,” he said. “It was intellectually challenging.”
He encountered his first case of tuberculosis in the brain, something he’d only seen in textbooks but is more common in the Middle East.
He evaluated each hospital’s facilities and checked the capabilities and requirements for implementing a systemwide tele-stroke program. “Eventually, we’d like to connect our angio suites so that if I’m doing a complex procedure, they can log in and see me and learn from me,” Kass-Hout said. “But also, if they’re performing a complex procedure, I can log in and offer guidance.”
He met not only with neurologists but also with the entire stroke care team, including radiologists, nurses and ICU doctors, to review and make suggestions for their triage process and their protocols. “The phrase I used the most was, ‘We already invented the wheel. You don’t need to reinvent it.’”
The eagerness and respect shown by the UAE medical staff made a lasting impression on Kass-Hout. “There was this hunger and desire for more knowledge and more collaboration to improve patient care,” he said. “You can feel it and see it every day there.”
Kass-Hout sees the partnership as an ideal opportunity for implementing the next generation of stroke-care technology: goggles that enable surgeons to operate on patients remotely. “Because the UAE is a new healthcare system, they have less restrictions and obstacles in terms of red tape, so we’re able to try some new innovations and new technologies there,” he said. While the goggles are still in testing phase, “this partnership could make this a five-year dream instead of a 20-year dream.”
Once their clinical infrastructure is built, the UAE partners are eager to then participate in UChicago Medicine’s research. “They truly believe in and want to be part of the innovation we are doing here,” Kass-Hout said.
Plans are already coming together for sending UChicago Medicine’s next physician ambassador, a pediatric neurologist. Atassi anticipates future exchanges might include experts in heart, vascular and solid-organ transplants.
“We have our own areas of expertise where we can definitely make a difference,” Atassi said. “This relationship is definitely going to yield better health outcomes for patients in the UAE with consistency and with deeper penetration.”
“This is a great opportunity for all parties,” said Ziad Abdulhak, MD, director of international programs. “The patients in the UAE get the chance to be seen and treated by our world-renowned physicians. For our physicians and institution, the complex cases that cannot be treated in UAE would come to UChicago Medicine for care.”
Tareq Kass-Hout, MD
Assistant Professor of Neurology
Director, Neuroendovascular Surgery
Tareq Kass-Hout, MD, is an expert on strokes and other neurovascular conditions at UChicago Medicine.