AN APPLE A DAY

Abu Dhabi 2019 | HEALTH | REVIEW

Given the high supply of general medical facilities, Abu Dhabi is moving toward specialized care to raise the bar of its healthcare system.

The government in Abu Dhabi has long been dedicated to providing both nationals and foreigners the highest quality healthcare available. The Emirate's strategic plan for the sector has seven key focus areas: reducing capacity gaps and minimizing the need for international care; improving the quality of local healthcare; attracting and retaining a local workforce; enhancing emergency preparedness; promoting wellness and preventing diseases; ensuring cost effectiveness and value for money; and building a comprehensive e-health system.

According to the most recent data by the UAE Open Data Portal, Abu Dhabi has approximately 52 hospitals, 15 of which are government run and 37 of which are private. Among those hospitals, Abu Dhabi has a total of 5,043 beds available, with 2,987 available in government hospitals and 2,056 available in private ones. The Emirate's healthcare regulator, Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DOH), recently announced Abu Dhabi will need an additional 2,100 hospital beds by 2025 in order to cater to the growing demand, by both locals and medical tourists.

The role the Emirate plays on a global scale in the field of healthcare is expanding rapidly. In July 2018, Khalifa University of Science and Technology announced its new medical school would be taking its first batch of students that September, helping Abu Dhabi develop itself as a hub for the field and training a new generation of Emirati doctors in the country. The curriculum will include heavy involvement with local hospitals starting in the first year, and graduates will have the opportunity for residency with a local hospital partnered with the university. The program will be modeled after the US system, in which medical school begins at the postgraduate level.

By strengthening its healthcare offerings, Abu Dhabi hopes to put itself on the map as a premier destination for medical tourism. In doing so, it will need to face the challenge of the high mobility of medical practitioners, to grow patients' confidence and willingness to book an appointment or surgery. As such, the DOH recently announced new measures for healthcare providers aimed at streamlining the way doctors and international patients access records. The new policy will create a portal that will maintain records of medical tourists' information, including diagnoses and clinical signs.
This follows a worldwide marketing campaign launched in early 2018 by the DOH, alongside the Department of Culture and Tourism, to turn the Emirate into a healthcare destination with internationally acclaimed facilities like the Cleveland Clinic and the Imperial College London Diabetes Center. The campaign revolves around highlighting the fields of excellence Abu Dhabi is known for, such as open-heart surgery and cancer treatment, the standards of which aren't available elsewhere in the region. The campaign also focuses on offering packages with discounts and attractions, not just for the patient themselves, but his or her entire family.

Abu Dhabi is known for adopting the latest technology and implementing it prudently in all sectors, and healthcare is no different. TBY recently met with Dr. Gowri Sankar Bapanapalli, CEO and internist at Al Raha Hospital, who explained how important of a role new technology will play in the field in Abu Dhabi. “There is a need to understand how technological gadgets can help us learn more about the patient, even before the symptoms arrive," Bapanapalli said. “There is a lot of technological expansion in the UAE, and the government is keen on creating an electronic environment. The UAE is advancing in using AI to manage hospitals. We receive patients' information and evaluate their individual risk stratification of a particular disease. If they are at risk, we educate them with preventive measures before the actual disease starts."
In June 2018, the DOH signed an MoU with NYU Abu Dhabi for the university's UAE Healthy Future study. The program is a long-term program launched in 2017 by NYUAD's Public Health Research Center and is intended to provide insights on some of the most common diseases among UAE nationals, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The study will examine approximately 20,000 Emiratis between the ages of 18 and 40. The program has already signed up more than 5,000 subjects.
Overall, the health market in the UAE has witnessed a hefty amount in investments aimed at filling the capacity gaps and portraying the Emirate as a medical tourism hub. However, industry leaders have revealed that the market is perhaps facing excessively tight margins to ensure competitiveness. Two main reasons came out when asked about this condition: an overcrowded market with players providing similar type of services, and the public sector engaging in a sort of competition with private players, both in terms of salary offerings and insurance deductibles, despite not always offering a profitable business model. With the right investments aimed at placing the patient at the center of the system, Abu Dhabi's rise as a medical tourism hub will know no boundaries.