Middle East: The hotbed of healthcare innovation

Insight into the different factors driving growth and the latest healthcare trends in the region.  

July 25, 2019 Deepa Narwani, Editor

A recent report by Frost & Sullivan highlighted that in 2019, GCC countries will represent 13 per cent of global revenues for healthcare products, with services growing at 12 per cent. The report said that the rising demand for better healthcare services in the region and global advancements in medical technologies have opened up a number of opportunities for information technology (IT) organisations to tap into this growing sector.

In an interview with Arab Health Magazine, Sandeep Sinha, Associate Partner – Healthcare, Life Sciences & BFS, Middle East, Africa & South Asia, Frost & Sullivan, shed light on the different factors driving growth and the latest healthcare trends in the Middle East.  

He shared: “Dubai is one of the most progressive healthcare markets and there are a number of healthcare investments happening here. Earlier it was a non-insurance market but today it has evolved into an insurance driven one. The overall growth of the market has been very good and there has been an increase in access. Earlier the patient used to pay from their pocket but now they do so through insurance. The volumes have gone drastically high in the last three years. In the UAE, Abu Dhabi is quite matured and an already regulated market, and Dubai has been driving pretty decent growth. Now we see Sharjah will be the next market and the other emirates will follow soon.”

Sinha said that Saudi Arabia is also an exciting market and is witnessing a lot of growth. There has been an increase in private investments in the healthcare space, along with Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) in the country. “The government is giving an opportunity for private investments and private players to come and invest in the healthcare space. As one of the biggest markets of the region, some of the highest growth can be seen in Saudi. Soon, Oman and Bahrain will also be implementing the insurance model. Health insurance is one of the major drivers of growth in the region,” he added.

Technology at the forefront

The Middle East has a positive outlook when it comes to adopting technologies, stressed Sinha. Basic IT infrastructure such as the Hospital Information System (HIS), Electronic Health Record (EMR) or other database related technologies, are quite prevalent in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. On top of it, new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are being adopted in the region and provide opportunities, especially in the diagnostic space, where it is going to play a major role.

He said: “The UAE has been the most prompt in adopting any technology, not just in healthcare. The country is always at the forefront and is keen on adopting those technologies and wants to have an edge when compared to other countries not just in the region but in the world.

“Within healthcare, the DHA is trying to build a new platform and is bringing some new guidelines to the AI side of it. Private hospitals are also very open to adopting AI. It is not just on the diagnostic side but can also be applied to improve the patient-customer experience and the third area where I see the government working with it is to integrate the Emirates ID to the health data. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are working towards trying to integrate the health data of all the residents of the UAE and have access to the information securely so that it can be accessed by various healthcare entities where the patient travels.”

Another technology integration that has been gaining traction is home healthcare. It is already a pretty decent business model in Abu Dhabi, said Sinha, but in Dubai too, it is gradually picking up.

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are working towards trying to integrate the health data of all the residents of the UAE and have access to the information securely.

What’s trending?

One of the key trends, Sinha highlights, that has been noticed since the beginning of 2018 in the UAE has been consolidation. The price points are coming down and the providers are offering better care.

“Efficiency will have a major impact. Every healthcare entity needs to ensure they have operational excellence otherwise they won’t be able to survive,” he said. “Be it patient care, human resources or processes, everywhere they need to ensure that there is efficiency then only will they be able to provide good care at better prices. Second, is the adoption of technology, which is linked to efficiency.

“Also, we see innovative business models being adopted such as home healthcare, rehab, long-term care, speciality-based clinics, and alternative medicine. The UAE is open for alternative treatments as India’s Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) held a conference in Dubai, and some homoeopathy conferences have also been held recently.”

Some of the other trends that have been observed are that large healthcare chains have become quite aggressive on offering high-end tertiary services, and a lot of investment is being made in this area. The institutions have started building capabilities in cardiology, oncology, nephrology, urology, and other specialised services for which patients used to go back to their home countries or the locals used to go abroad. This is a trend where good capacity is being built in the market, added Sinha.

The UAE also has a huge aspiration to become the region’s healthcare hub and for some of the specialities such as cosmetic and dentistry, and IVF, Dubai has secured a good number of patients coming in from neighbouring countries as well as from the African continent.

Dubai’s population keeps moving every three to four years, as its largely expatriate driven. That poses another challenge as to how do you maintain the balance of the population, as all these different people will have different healthcare needs. It is not just about the patient but also about the caregiver because a patient coming in from the African or European region, will have different kind of healthcare needs.

“Taking things into consideration such as retention of the manpower, quality, etc., the cost of treatment goes high. Dubai is trying to meet these challenges by introducing new reforms that will benefit the entire population,” he concluded.  

Be it patient care, human resources or processes, everywhere they need to ensure that there is efficiency then only will they be able to provide good care at better prices."

Sandeep Sinha