The issues faced by the healthcare sector is broadly similar across the GCC, such as reliance on foreign qualified healthcare resources, lack of certain specialised healthcare services (forcing people to travel abroad for treatment), lifestyle diseases, lack of a quality primary care facilities especially in rural areas, which leaves tertiary care overburdened with patients.
To ensure steady improvement in the health sector, it is imperative to encourage private sector investment. This will create competition, which in turn improves quality of services, efficiency in the system etc. However, there needs to be a strong mechanism in place that should ensure an oversupply situation will not arise as that would be detrimental. The government must analyse the sector and identify gaps within the different healthcare specialties. This will allow the private sector to channel their investment to serve these segments. This will not only reduce the investment risk within the healthcare sector but also build the overall healthcare capacity of these countries holistically.
To draw private sector interest, further concentration is required on the following:
Investor friendly legislation and schemes: Increased private sector participation by the introduction of PPP schemes (with clear structures), tax holidays, low-cost credit etc.
Foreign Investment: Expedite company formation process for foreign firms, permit repatriation of profits, assist visas for specialist staff to overcome human capital issues etc. We understand that the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) is playing a promising role in this.
Capacity to spend: Expedite the implementation of mandatory insurance for Saudi nationals employed in the public sector. This will shift the quantum of care towards the private sector and help reduce the burden of healthcare from the shoulders of the government. These matters need to be addressed now because as the population starts ageing, the cost of care will increase and then implementation and shifting of care to the private sector may become challenging.
Healthy lifestyle awareness campaigns: Although GCC governments have been professing this for some time, a concentrated initiative is required, targeting all age groups and society at large to promote a healthy lifestyle as the way of life.
Increased use of technology:
Telehealth: The potential in this area is immense and can pave the way for collaboration of domestic healthcare operators with other internationally renowned healthcare providers. The practical advantage of this method of care is that it provides immediate access to healthcare professionals, restricts travel to a healthcare service provider on a need basis and reduces the burden in the outpatient department of healthcare facilities. In critical cases, the use of telehealth may also result in the saving of lives as real-time specialist guidance can be provided to stabilise a patient in healthcare facilities, which do not have adequate specialists
Technology wearables: These instruments can constantly track a person’s vitals and provide complete data allowing physicians to provide holistically proactive care rather than reactive treatment. This is more cost-effective and better for the entire system.