TBY talks to Ali Akbar Esmaeili, Vice President of Atieh Hospital.
TBY How many private hospitals are there in Iran, and what is the national trend in terms of growth?
ALI AKBAR ESMAEILI We have around 150 private hospitals in all of Iran, though just 15 top-grade hospitals in the capital Tehran. The Ministry of Health uses different criteria to evaluate hospitals as a public service for citizens and only a limited number can receive the top grade. Atieh Hospital is one of these hospitals that has received a top grade.
Do you specialize in any particular medical conditions, or are you more of a general hospital?
We are a general hospital. We have specialists in every branch of the health services: oncology, midwifery, surgery, neurology, pediatrics, ICU, CCU, and open heart ICU. We even do plastic surgery.
How many physicians do you employ?
Over 300, and 130 of them are shareholders in the hospital.
What is your bed and patient capacity?
We have 350 beds, but only 303 are active. We host 24,000 patients and perform 12,000 surgical procedures annually.
Who are your main clients?
We have different patients, though 60% have private insurance, and 40% do not use insurance. The reason they come to this hospital is because they are able to pay for their medical care.
There is actually a vast network of public health care in Iran, but the number of private hospitals is increasing. Why do you think this is the case, and how do you see the future of this trend?
Maybe it is because the people have improved economic means. The more incomes improve, the more private hospitals there will be. These are the policies of the government. Since the Second Five-Year Development Plan, private medical centers and hospitals have been on the increase. One of the policies the government is debating is on possibly privatizing some state hospitals.
In Parand City, for example, the developers are looking for someone to build a hospital. Do you have any plans to expand and establish other hospitals in the country?
We have bought land near here so we will first expand our hospital in Tehran. In the future, maybe we will go to Turkey to consult with the engineers of their hospitals, such as Anadolu Hospital, to help establish that style of healthcare facility in Iran. We want to use Turkish architects and experts to design and construct hospitals in Iran.
Do you have plans to open hospitals in other cities?
It is our goal to have a chain of hospitals, but we have some legal limitations from the government. If the government allows us, we will become a chain-style hospital in the future. We aspire to have a brand name.
Talking about the future, 70% of the Iranian population is under 35 years of age. As older people tend to frequent hospitals more, how do you see that affecting your hospital in the future?
In 10 years, there will be three important diseases. These diseases are diabetes, coronary issues, and psychiatric illness. Our goal is to focus on these three deficiencies, and to have the best services for these three complaints. We have also established some tourism facilities using the Atieh brand name. We have a hotel complex in the north of Iran and a water park, and all of them use the name Atieh as a brand.
Is it related to medical tourism, for example, to attract medical patients from abroad?
Not now, no. If we have some patients from abroad, we have a contract with companies that arrange the hotels, and provide services to these patients, and we give the clinical services to them because it is our specialty.
So there is no project in the future for your hospital or Iran to develop medical tourism?
No, because of legal limitations. If someone comes here for services and there is an accident and the worst happens, we cannot coordinate what needs to be done with their country. Because of this legal limitation, we are obliged to use an intermediary company for these patients.
From which countries do you receive most of your patients?
Azerbaijan, Iraq, Afghanistan, the UAE, and other Arab countries. They come here because we have very good physicians and doctors.
As a hospital administrator, how do Iranian doctors compare to their international counterparts?
It depends on many factors. Fertility treatment is one good example. Because of the culture and beliefs of the Islamic countries near Iran, and because of the specializations we have in Iran, they come here for treatment. Maybe some people prefer to come to our country because of the experience of our physicians. For example, many rhinoplasty procedures are performed here. Because of that, maybe they prefer to come to an expert physician because of his or her experience, and they want to have that procedure performed here.
Are you looking for foreign investors to help finance the new hospital?
We would be glad to receive the cooperation of Turkish institutes. One of our limitations is that the process of cooperating with other countries takes too much time in Iran. If we go to Turkey and we want to have a contract with a medical institute, maybe after six days we can get a license. In Iran it could take two years to obtain a license. Because of this limitation, foreign investment is difficult, though it is something we are working on.
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