Article #4 | Keeping a check on the Medical Industry

Sep 23 2018
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Articles #4 | Keeping a check on the Medical Industry
Some of my articles on Medical tourism.

“The UAE is rapidly taking the centre stage by increasing its market share in this ever-growing sector and is amongst the few countries in the world that have identified medical tourism as a national industry”
Raza Siddiqui, CEO, Arabian Healthcare Group, Ras Al Khaimah

Many people travel overseas for medical purposes – driven by motives that are as wide-ranging as cost effectiveness, to the perceived quality of healthcare in the country they reside in. Medical tourism isn’t really a new trend but it is the constant evolution of countries and the shifting trends in this sphere that is intriguing and interesting. In the last few years, better infrastructure and quality care in the Middle East has caught the attention of medical tourists to the region and benefitted the UAE the most. The UAE is one of the few countries in the world that has identified medical tourism as a national industry. Hospitals and healthcare hubs in the UAE are increasingly looking abroad to attract patients and boost a small but growing medical tourism sector.

THE MARKET FOR MEDICAL TOURISM
The GCC healthcare market is on track to grow at 11.4% annually to US$44 billion by 2015, with specialised healthcare cities and other major hospital projects springing up in the region, paving the way for medical tourists. Although prices are higher than in India or Malaysia, the GCC states offer excellent healthcare and patients can nonetheless save 20-40% over the cost of care in the US, or over elective care in Europe. As per Alpen Capital GCC Healthcare Industry report 2011, the healthcare spends of the GCC countries is expected to reach around US$44 billion by 2015 and an estimated US$60 billion by 2025. In 2011, the spend was around US$28.9 billion. It is interesting to note that by 2025, the demand for hospital beds in the GCC is expected to double and touch 162,000, which is incredible. The UAE is a leading destination for medical tourism in the Middle East and is expected to clock Dhs 6.1 billion in revenue as per the report.

THE UAE
Talking about the UAE, the government here spent 24% of the 2011 federal budget on social and healthcare development. As this is one of the main focus areas of the government, the total healthcare spending is projected to nearly double by 2014 – increasing the sector’s contribution to the overall GDP of the Emirates to 3.4% from the current 2.8%. The UAE already spends US$650 million on medical costs related to diabetes. Industry experts expect this figure to touch US$1 billion by 2020, marking an increase of 58%. Concerted efforts by the government of all the Emirates, especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai, have fuelled this growing trend. The UAE and Dubai in particular has taken lot of efforts to establish itself as a tourist destination. Today, the UAE attracts 30,000 to 40,000 tourists per day and it scores A++ as a tourist destination that will pave way for medical tourism as well. In fact the world’s leading medical tourism destinations such as Switzerland, London and Thailand have initially developed themselves as tourist
destinations and then with the best medical facilities, these countries managed to attract medical tourists as well. With rapid infrastructure growth over the last 40 years and boasting some of the best medical facilities available in the world, the UAE has become a magnet for medical tourism. Dubai is already known to be one of the top tourism destinations in the world. Supportive infrastructure for medical tourism exists such as airlines network, hotels, shopping centres and festivals. Moreover, the multicultural social fabric and the absence of language barriers give an opportunity for the growth of this sector. The DHA is further building its healthcare capabilities, policies and regulations to ensure that Dubai enjoys the leading position as a healthcare destination on the global medical tourism map. Establishment of the Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), the world’s first freezone dedicated to the healthcare sector, has played an instrumental role in attracting world-renowned medical institutions and centres to the UAE, and in turn medical tourists who are looking at superior services at affordable prices. DHCC welcomed around 50,000 patients in 2011 – an increase of 10% compared with the previous year. It is estimated that the UAE’s healthcare market will reach US$14.6 billion by the end of 2014, growing at a compound annual growth rate of around 16% from 2011. Numbers appear to be up throughout UAE, including Abu Dhabi. Most international patients visiting the UAE originate from neighbouring countries with little or no access to quality care, for example Qatar, Oman, the Turkic States, and from Iraq, Iran, and Libya. The UAE offers a wide array of world-class, affordable and wellconnected medical facilities. Special treatments and procedures such as cardiac, joint replacements, mastectomy, and cosmetic surgeries are being successfully conducted in the UAE at an affordable cost compared with India, Singapore and Thailand. The average cost of a bypass surgery in the UAE ranges from US$15,000 to US$18,000, whereas the same will cost around US$18,500 in Singapore, US$15,000 in Thailand, US$12-15,000 in India and around US$10,000-12,000 in Malaysia. Rapid infrastructure growth in the region over the last four decades has underpinned a strong foundation for the sector. The country is rapidly taking the centre stage by increasing its market share in this ever-growing sector and is amongst the few countries in the world that have identified medical tourism as a national industry. The Economist Intelligence Unit Estimates suggests that overall healthcare spending is expected to rise from an estimated US$8 billion in 2010 to almost double that amount in 2015 at US$16.8 billion. Over the last few years, 14 hospitals in the UAE have been accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI) – which is the mark of highest quality in healthcare industry and also ensures compliance of the best practices. To put things in perspective, let’s look at the size of this industry. According to industry experts, medical tourism is set to become a US$100-billion industry by 2012-2013. The Emirates is expected to capture a considerable chunk of this pie with its infrastructure, standard quality healthcare, competitive pricing and other positives. The country boasts of some of the best hospitals in the world and has made sizeable investment amounting to billions of dollars in the health caresystem.

WORLD-CLASS FACILITIES
The government has played a crucial role throughout in the development of this sector. Stringent regulations and quality checks have been at the heart of healthcare services in the region. Project such as Dubai Healthcare City, a government-led initiative, is a 435-acre state-of-the-art ‘centre of excellence’ for clinical and wellness services which has brought together some of the best healthcare companies and hospitals together in the same cluster. The dedicated freezone is the largest international medical centre located between Southeast Asia and Europe – perfectly positioned to capitalise on the traffic flows from all sectors. Another positive that is working in favour of the UAE is the strict protocols in place. If a customer is disappointed he can go to the MOH and DHA and complain about his dissatisfaction. The Ministry will set up a panel that will review the case and if the doctor is proven guilty, he or she will have to pay the damages. World-class hospitals such as Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, RAK Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah and well-established healthcare facilities in other Emirates are gravitating medical tourists from across the globe to this country. The strategic positioning of Ras Al Khaimah too makes it ideal for tourists from the Middle East, Yemen, Oman, East and West Africa. With best-in-line services and infrastructure, RAK Hospital is marketing
itself in the African and CIS countries to attract tourists from these regions. It is also talking to local embassies to engage with the Ministry of Health, insurance companies, local hospitals and general practitioners. Continuity of care is very important when it concerns medical tourists and since UAE has so many JCI certified hospitals, we are in a good position to fulfill this vital criterion. The hospitals with JCI certification will have all systems in place for monitoring patients when they go back to their home country. For instance RAK Hospital does a thorough check of the reports generated by the physician of the patient in home country. They get in touch with the family physician before the patient arrives here for treatment and continue that until the patient is fully recovered. For this they have telemedicine, tele-conferencing facilities, which allow them to get in touch with the doctors in the home country at any point. E.g a patient can have a joint replacement surgery in UAE and will get discharged in nine days, but needs physiotherapy for two months. In that case RAK Hospital get in touch with the physiotherapist of the patient and stays in touch regularly until the complete guidelines are followed.

CONCLUSION
With such a healthy environment for industry growth, the day is not far away when UAE will be counted amongst the top destinations for health tourism across the globe. However, the only challenge for the nation is the availability of trained resources due to lack of training institutions and great dependence on expatriate resources, though these can tackled. Hence, the need of the hour is to educate the world on the options available and aggressively market its unique facilities on a global scale. For this, we require unified efforts, stricter regulations and effective marketing strategies to promote the country as a favourite destination to the outside world.

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