Opinion: UAE healthcare sector ready to boom

How technology and regulation are driving the healthcare sector to new heights
Facilitating the growth of the UAE’s medical tourism industry isn’t just about adding facilities and treatment options – it’s also about the experience.
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Thu 01 Feb 2018 03:38 PM

Supported by the latest infrastructure, competent medical staff and a convenient geographic location, Dubai is well on its way to becoming one of the world’s foremost medical tourism hubs, officials say.

Speaking ahead of last week’s Arab Health exhibit in Dubai, Humaid Al Qutami, chairman of the board and director-general of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), noted that the emirate received 326,649 medical tourists in 2016, an almost 10 percent increase from the previous year.

Al Qutami noted that the strength of Dubai’s medical tourism sector has already had a significant impact on the greater UAE economy. “Revenue generated from international patients travelling to Dubai for treatment was worth over AED1bn [$272.2m], reinforcing the growing contribution of the sector to the national GDP,” he said.

“Dubai’s attractive location along with the availability of high-quality medical professionals and technology has enabled the city to build a strong and favourable platform for its medical tourism capabilities,” he added.

Facilitating the growth of the UAE’s medical tourism industry isn’t just about adding facilities and treatment options – it’s also about the experience.

“Dubai’s efforts are aimed at easing the entire patient journey,” Dr Layla Al Marzouqi, director of the Dubai Health Tourism Council, commented recently. “The objective is to provide patients with a unique experience and the highest medical service standards using state-of-the-art technology, accompanied by highly specialised and educated staff.”

To facilitate medical tourism, the authorities in Dubai have already taken a number of steps, including the introduction of a patient’s rights and responsibilities charter, as well as a medical complaints procedure designed to address any medical-related issues based on the level of severity and provide families with a timetable for resolution.

A growing market

According to statistics, the UAE’s wider healthcare sector – which is naturally centred on the main cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi – is on the verge of even stronger growth. A March 2017 study from MENA Research Partners (MRP), for instance, estimated that the country’s healthcare sector will grow as much as 60 percent over the next several years, from $17bn in 2017 to $28bn in 2021.

A more recent report from MRP, launched just last week at Arab Health, noted that the entire GCC private healthcare sector, valued at $62bn in 2016, is expected to grow 8.7 percent annually to reach $94bn in 2021. Notably, Saudi Arabia and the UAE account for two-thirds of the market, with the UAE being the fastest growing market in the region.

Many of the UAE’s home-grown healthcare companies are taking advantage of the growing UAE and GCC market to propel success. UAE healthcare operator NMC Health, for example, recently acquired a 70 percent stake worth $170m in CosmeSurge, a cosmetic surgery and aesthetic medicine provider, as well as an 80 percent stake in the Riyadh-based Al Salam Medical Group.

Tech to the rescue

To meet with the demands of the future, the UAE’s healthcare sector is rapidly changing to adapt to the increasing demands of a young, more health-conscious population that is interested in preventive, rather than curative, care.

“Being a digitally-savvy population that enjoys one of the highest digital connectivity rates in the world, the new generation is redrawing the blueprints of the future of healthcare in the UAE,” MRP CEO Anthony Hobeika said in 2017.

“They are looking for a more personalised and specialist healthcare. While doing this, they are moving more towards interaction and self-management which is aided by the ever-growing technology in the sector.”

Notably, technology was a main focus of the recent Arab Health event, with examples ranging from surgical robots that have recently been used to insert screws into patient’s spines to 360-degree breast thermography system and smart watches, telemedicine technology and a wide variety of apps.

“[The] UAE has the most efficient healthcare system in the world and uses innovative health-tech solutions which provide the basis for excellent healthcare delivery,” said Sajid Azmi, the co-founder of Pulse FZ, which has developed the MyMedicNow app which allows patients to book appointments and receive real-time confirmations, as well as rate doctors and hospitals.

“As we head into 2018, the healthcare landscape is moving at an ever-increasing pace to return to a more patient-focused experience. As such, the ability to access clinical access remotely – especially via a mobile device – will become more prevalent,” he added.

Healthcare projects in the GCC

– According to the latest GCC Construction Intelligence report from BNC Network, the total value of 707 healthcare projects in the GCC exceeded $60.9bn in January 2018.

– Of that total, 445 projects are hospitals collectively worth $51.9bn, and 262 – which are primarily clinics or research centres – are worth $9bn.

– The statistics also show that of the 707 projects, 264 are already under construction, while 227 are in design and pipeline, with another 75 projects in tender.

– The combined value of healthcare contracts awarded in the GCC in the fourth quarter of 2017 alone totalled $813.9m.

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