Reforming healthcare

Doing things in a low key way, with very little PR or fanfare, is how business is often done in the Middle East.
Reforming healthcare
By David Ingham
Sun 01 Jul 2007 12:00 AM

Last month's announcement that Abu Dhabi is turning the management of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City over to the US-based Cleveland Clinic went virtually unnoticed. A few days later, just a few lines were given to the news that Abu Dhabi Health Authority has appointed Vienna University and the Phamed Company to manage the Al Ain Central Hospital.

Though these announcements were fairly low key, they are incredibly significant developments. The debate about how to manage government healthcare services has been intensifying for months, and we are now starting to see how governments plan to address the issue.

All across the GCC, governments are trying to make hospitals more accountable by giving them fixed budgets to manage. In Dubai, the local heath authority has formed a public private partnership (PPP) with Emaar Healthcare group, a subsidiary of a property developer, to create specialist clinics. Dubai is still to announce when it will oblige all expatriates to have health insurance, whereas Abu Dhabi has already made it mandatory.

Faced with rising healthcare costs, the need to prioritise spending and in a desire to improve the quality of services, ‘commercialisation' of healthcare in the GCC is inevitable. The transformation is certainly a huge one.

Traditionally, government hospitals have had virtually limitless budgets and anyone, national or expatriate, could go to them for treatment. In the future, state hospitals will be run like businesses, with budget caps in place and all non-nationals having to produce an insurance card when they turn up for treatment.

This new reality will create many challenges. Hospital administrators will have to learn how to draw up budgets and stay within them. Government hospitals will have to start being competitive with private hospitals both on price and on service.

Greater competition and the trend towards individual hospital specialisation will intensify the competition for scarce human resources. HR departments will quickly have to learn that people are their organisation's most important assets. More thought will have to be given to remuneration, already a hot topic, and how to create stimulating working environments.

Commercialisation of the region's state healthcare sector will be a challenging and gradual process. If the end result is better services for patients and more opportunities for healthcare professionals, it can only be a good thing.

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