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For Dr Raza Siddiqui, CEO of the Arabian Healthcare Group and executive director, RAK Hospital, UAE, these three attributes have come to define the essence of a healing environment as the way healthcare facilities are designed today help in not only increasing patient and visitor satisfaction but is also leading to improved clinical outcomes.
“The healing environment is all about generating a feeling of positivity,” observes Dr Siddiqui. “No one likes to be in a hospital for long. Hence, I believe that as much support a facility offers in the form of state-of-the-art medicine and technology and quality patient care, an equal importance should be attached to the physical environment in which a patient receives care. New concepts in healthcare architecture are striving to provide just that.”
Deviating from the path of the sterile look and feel of the traditional hospitals that are also generally characterised by a distinctive clinical smell, the RAK Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah employs an innovative healthcare design where the rooms are suffused with light and the glass curtain walls in the ICU reveal the splendour of a well-manicured garden. “If a patient in an ICU were to open his eyes for just five minutes a day, the sight that would greet him is the light outside and the life manifest in nature. The realisation then dawns that this is where he/she belongs and the resolve to fight back only grows stronger – and that signals hope,” he explains. “Despite being in a condition when they are likely to feel or be at their worst, the adoption of a mindful approach that is conducive to healing can help dispel to a large extent feelings of negativity and despair.”
“By tapping into the patient’s positive emotional state, the healing process tends to be quicker as the patient cooperates better; his desire to get back to being healthy is heightened and thus, hospital stay is minimised,” he adds.
Nature and soothing environments form part of healthcare aesthetics today. Until a couple of decades ago, few hospitals or clinics made any concessions to aesthetics as their primary objective was to focus chiefly on the medical needs of the patients. However, change has set in with mounting scientific evidence pointing to the impact of design in making a tangible contribution to creating a healing environment. As healthcare today moves forward towards a more patient-centred and holistic model, greater emphasis is being given to creating positive experiences through design on projects of all sizes.
“This is where healthcare facilities are borrowing strategies adopted by the hospitality sector which has specialised in providing the services and setting that often exceed customer expectations,” points out Dr Siddiqui. “A patient’s impression of a healthcare facility begins long before he/she sets foot in the hospital. From the first phone call or email to book an appointment to the concierge services and quality of ambience that greets you at the door, a patient’s perceptions of the quality of care and overall satisfaction is being impacted.”
Hospitals across the UAE are now employing atypical features including use of landscaping, natural light, lighting, space, art and ergonomics and are veering away from institutional-feel designs to improve quality of care. With warm colours and soothing pastels on walls, vibrant wallpapers, use of natural light and open spaces, hospitals now look anything but utilitarian as it did in the past. “Transcending traditional standards have also changed patients’ experiences and expectations of what a hospital should be,” says Dr Siddiqui. “RAK Hospital, for instance, offers spa services, and a homely and welcoming ambience that complements the natural beauty of Ras Al Khaimah.”
A part of this change can be attributed to the shift in the traditionally-held perception that healthcare is a charitable activity or a non-profit endeavour. “On the contrary,” he points out, “healthcare has to be run as a for-profit business. When the profit angle sets in, what matters most is the needs, wants and desires of the customer. By focusing on all aspects of customer delight, positive experience and service excellence, hospitals can improve their bottom line.”
Although hospitality elements form the “soft touches” that was previously missing in a medical setting, healthcare provided has to be top-of-the-line, he asserts. “While meet and greet and valet services or patient educators can make you feel good, the ultimate crowning glory for any healthcare facility would be the quality of medical services offered that is backed with up-to-date technology and treatments.”
Keeping pace with technology is highly capital intensive and hospitals have to function as profit-making enterprises to raise capital to upgrade facilities, purchase expensive medical equipment or information technology systems, opines Dr Siddiqui. “One of the main benefits of running health services as a business, he adds, “is that it stimulates innovation, is responsive to the needs of the patients and brings in new capital to enhance services. Investors in the hospital business will work towards preserving and enhancing the economic value of the invested capital; and this, in turn, augurs well for the industry as a whole.”
Globally, the healthcare market is a US$9.59 trillion industry. According to a 2017 report by MENA Research Partners (MRP), the UAE’s healthcare market is set to surge to more than AED103 billion ($28 billion) by 2021 – representing 60 percent growth over the next five years.
Since the shift of service delivery from publicly funded government hospitals to the private sector and the rolling in of private health insurance schemes across the nation, the UAE has witnessed massive growth of the industry with significant improvements in the quality of healthcare provision, he says.
“The USA, which is considered to be the mecca of medicine, began to privatise healthcare services in the 1960s on realisation that no government could afford to provide free ‘quality healthcare’ to its people,” he explains. “As healthcare is both technology and capital intensive, the question arises as to who could pay for it or why should someone invest for research into that change? That is how privatisation in healthcare came about in the US and increased accessibility came about with the privatization of the health insurance industry. The UAE is currently developing along the same lines where a growth in the private sector’s share of healthcare delivery has kept pace with implementation of regulatory measures.”
The tripling of the UAE population since 2000, coupled with the rise in prevalence of chronic and lifestyle-related diseases, emerging market expansion, infrastructure improvements and efforts to shift the cost burden away from the public sector, has led to an extended period of high growth in the healthcare sector. “This is therefore a good time to invest in medical facilities in the region,” advises Dr Siddiqui. “Not only is it a meaningful business but it also guarantees a fair return on investment. The advent of the mandatory insurance scheme has meant that people are willing to avail of tertiary care treatment here rather than go back to their respective countries or to the West as was the case earlier. Forecast for the sector continues to grow driven by the gap between supply and demand which is also paving the way forward for new trends in personalised medicine and customisation of treatments.”
With greater diversity of providers in the market, improved access, arrival of major international healthcare brands, and the inclination of patients to rely on the local healthcare services for treatment rather than going abroad, the healthcare sector in the UAE is clearly poised for a robust growth. The shift in demand for preventive care, a rise in specialist medical services and more efficiently integrated healthcare solutions is setting the nation on track to realise its ambition of becoming one among the best countries in the world in terms of quality of healthcare, according to the UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda.