The Middle East has been identified in the 2015 Global Health Care Sector Outlook as having the highest expected growth and potential in healthcareglobally. With the growing population, rising life expectancy, high incidence of lifestyle-related diseases and expanding economy, there is now an increased need for more healthcare systems in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. As an example, out of the top ten countries with the highest prevalence of diabetes, six come from the GCC costing the government billions of dollars annually for what is for many a preventable disease. Therefore, the region has been driving efforts to build high quality and accessible healthcare systems and has catalyzed massive flows of investment in building and redefining healthcare in the GCC. It has also resulted in a number of notable regional healthcare trends, in both public and private institutions, including: innovation and digital transformation, medical tourism and public-private partnerships.
Innovation and Digital Transformation:
Healthcare plays one of the most significant roles in ensuring the needs of people. This also makes healthcare an extremely complex web of medical data, research, building infrastructure, practitioners and global markets, among many others. Yet, keeping up with the growing need and demand for healthcare around the world has been difficult due to the fast-paced environment we live in. According to Deloitte, one of the main challenges facing healthcare in the GCC region remain technology gaps. This has resulted in massive efforts, on part of the GCC governments, in investing and introducing innovative digital intelligence and technology.
Consulting and outsourcing company Accenture’s analysts find that “platform revolution” is one the main digital healthcare trends being witnessed internationally. The term is defined as the increasing use of mobile and cloud platforms that enable healthcare institutions to not just track patients health, but capture data from a variety of sources including phones and wearables. The main purpose being to provide patients and doctors with holistic treatment plans. Here in the GCC region, health industry innovators forecast an increased use of virtual tools to help change the way health care is funded and delivered. Just last year, the Dubai Health Authority released two smartphone apps – “Dubai Doctors” and “Senhaty” that provide 93 smart services for health, healthcare facility, healthcare professionals and the general public. Kuwait too has been adopting digital strategies that will bridge the healthcare gap, as it most recently partnered with Advantech, a Taiwan-based multinational corporation and Taiwan’s Institute for Information Industry to develop cutting edge digital solutions. Not only will these digital tools make it easier to renew licenses for doctors and facilities but also allow patients to schedule appointments, view lab results, medication information and apply for medical reports.
Another major digital trend being witnessed in the digital space is “the workforce re-imagined” or rather the emergence of machines. Many healthcare institutions in the GCC are opting to transform into digital hospitals to ensure the highest in quality and safety for patients’ care. Mr Mounir Marhaba, Program Director, King Khalid Medical City, Saudi Arabia, states that fully digital hospitals would allow for simplified workflow, a reduction in waste and most importantly improve caregiver efficiency. It is also important to note that the regional trends in digital healthcare have not been used to replace medical professionals or the personal connection shared between a patient and doctor. Rather they have continually focused on making more effective, informative and faster diagnoses for patients and practitioners.
There has been a progressive movement by the GCC governments in supporting the expansion of healthcare. The U.A.E. Vision 2021 clearly states that “the UAE [will] … invest continually to build world-class healthcare infrastructure, expertise and services in order to fulfill citizens’ growing needs and expectations”. Together with the public sector, private healthcare companies also grew and helped in providing global standards of medical care. Looking back, when my father, Dr. Azad Moopen–Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare, opened his first clinic in Dubai nearly 30 years ago, there were only a handful of medical centres and were mostly government-run. However by 2014, according to a study by Deloitte, there were 104 hospitals throughout the UAE.The rising number of healthcare institutions has not just been improving regional access to medical care, but has also been spearheading high levels of interest in medical tourism.
Medical Tourism as a global industry is valued at an estimated $50 billion, and is a trend gaining popularity especially in the GCC region. So far Dubai healthcare professionals expect millions of healthcare tourists by the end of 2020. This is largely because the region is investing in the infrastructure needed to host multiple healthcare institutions. The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) finds that this region has the resources necessary to attract foreign patients, due to its national airlines, airports, a large supply of hotels and GCC governments investing millions into improving existing health services.
As an institution, it is important to plan ahead and be ready for the expected influx of medical tourists. At Aster DM Healthcare, we have a network that includes 1,500 doctors, 13,500 staff and around 290 establishments present in the globe. Medcare, one of our brands, is expanding its reach and expertise in women and children’s health, including IVF clinics, to become a hub for women and children of the UAE as well as its neighbors. Aster’s 100-bed hospital and its various medical centers in the UAE are also prepared to provide medical tourists services they typically fly for. The Aster DM network, through its hospitals and clinics, is covering primary to quaternary care and affordable quality treatment that is within reach whether in the GCC and through our facilities in India mainly Aster Medcity, Kochi & Aster CMI Bangalore. And with digital innovation, it is possible within the Aster establishments to have a records exchange as well as visiting consultants to share knowledge and expertise.
The GCC region has also begun to attract international hospitals from Europe and North America, looking to cater to the region. For instance, the importance of Germany as a premier healthcare destination for GCC nationals has led to medical tourism facilitator firms such as Premier Healthcare Germany setting up in Dubai.
Public-Private Partnerships (PPP):
The demand for healthcare in the GCC is predicted to reach unprecedented levels within the next decade, with increasing medical tourism, local and immigrant populations. However, the current model is supported by primarily government investments. The UAE, including the neighboring states of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been investing billions into healthcare. Saudi Arabia, for instance, spent an estimated $35.9 billion on health care in 2013. While the United Arab Emirates plans to increase overall healthcare spending from approximately $14 billion in 2013, to $19.6 billion in 2018. In fact, GCC countries pay more of healthcare costs than most other countries in the world. For instance, Kuwait’s public healthcare expenditure is 85% of total healthcare expenditure compared to only 49% in the Americas. Yet due to multiple years of budgetary spending increases, countries like Saudi Arabia are strengthening efforts to invest in increase private healthcare.
Over the past decade, the GCC has invested $628 billion in public-private partnership (PPP) projects in every industry to enable more effective delivery and efficiency of services. Booz and Company explains that PPP would encompass contracts. In which the private partner would be responsible for building, operating and financing the company, and over the long term would sell it to the government. The public sector or the government then would primarily re-focus efforts on ensuring and improving accessibility and quality of healthcare in the region. This would be especially beneficial for the healthcare sector and there has been a noticed increased effort.
Regional governments have been expanding health insurance, increasing loan limits to build hospitals and supporting PPPs. Although it is likely that the GCC governments will still continue to finance the larger portion of health care spending in the next few years, there are plans of encouraging more private healthcare. Yet it is imperative that government regulation be used to avoid governments and private companies from competing with one another for manpower, in a market that already has limited costs. To avoid such diﬃculties, governments should adopt multi-stakeholder and multidimensional approaches that will assure PPP’s in healthcare can work to the best of their abilities.
The future of healthcare in the GCC promises to be a mine of opportunity for growth, development and advanced medical care. There will definitely still be a lot of challenges ahead but the GCC governments and private healthcare institutions in the region are very much in tune with the needs of people, including global industry trends such as digital innovation, medical tourism and PPPs and are carving the pathway to getting there.