What is your current position in the private healthcare landscape of the country?
Dr. Yousif Abou Zahr The government provides almost 90% of healthcare through its hospitals and primary healthcare centers. The remaining 10% is private, though there has been a noticeable shift toward private, as big national companies like KOC provide their employees with private insurance plans. Al Seef Hospital opened in 2010, and in the first year we had 10-20% of our patients covered by insurance, as compared to 90% today. We position ourselves as a leading private healthcare facility, with high-end care and comfort, but without the unnecessary extra luxury. We offer a clean environment, top-notch Western-qualified doctors, and the latest equipment and techniques. Wherever we see growing demand, we will add more resources to cater to medical needs of our patients.
Dr. Alexander Varghese We stand as a high-end secondary care hospital, with some services up to tertiary care. In the field of fertility, from gynecology and delivery up to IVF treatment, we are among the best in the region. Another specialty where we provide tertiary care is pediatrics, including sub-specialties like pediatric pulmonology, pediatric endocrinology, pediatric cardiology, and pediatric neurology. Thirdly, we are highly specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation for which we provide end-to-end services. Our center has everything that is needed for rehabilitation, developed with a US-trained professional who has been with us for 20 years. Our last area of the highest expertise is our ophthalmology division. We do anterior surgeries, glaucoma, LASIK, and essentially everything within the field of ophthalmology.
Does Kuwait seek to become a magnet for healthcare for the region?
YAZ We are establishing centers of excellence in certain specialties, and word has spread around the region. Our modus operandi is to establish partnerships with consultants abroad, so we bring specialists here on a regular basis. Currently, we welcome patients from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE. In addition, the foreign armies that are stationed in the region use our services. However, other countries are moving at a much faster pace in terms of medical tourism. To compete with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, we need better privatization and more public-private collaboration to ensure a more dynamic market. Most public hospitals are not profit centers; rather, they are cost centers at the moment and are run by the Ministry of Finance without much accountability. There needs to be an element of autonomy in running hospitals to compete for services, technology, and excellence.
AV Kuwait is extremely well placed, geographically and climate wise, for medical tourism. Kuwait is taking steps to attract medical tourists to the country and we in the private sector have and will support any government initiative. For the public sector, Kuwait is the only country in the world where expatriates can get the same care at the same rates as Kuwaitis. When an individual gets a work visa here, there is a small fee for employers, and the employee can then access any public health center in the country. Also, the country provides all services end to end, and some of these services are world class. An expatriate can visit any hospitals, only paying the admittance fee of KWD1. Even outpatients are treated for almost free, which is unique in the world.
What are the challenges in finding and retaining medical staff?
YAZ Recruitment is the biggest challenge facing the private sector. When we recruit a doctor or a nurse, we have to get the license from the Ministry of Health, which is a lengthy procedure. Our choices therefore are limited, so we target Egypt, as it has designed its system to have an easier transfer, India, which has a longstanding tradition of recognized degrees, and the Philippines, where there is a supply of doctors, nurses, and technicians. At the specialist level, we try to get Western-qualified doctors with UK, US, Canadian, or European qualifications, but we also target doctors from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt who are working in Europe or the US and are willing to relocate back to their home region.
AV There are certainly challenges, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi seem to have found a way of fixing it while other states are still catching up. The strength of the Gulf region is that there are strong economies and we can afford to pay good salaries. A challenge is that it takes time to recruit from abroad, especially at the doctor level. We have more than 10 Kuwaiti doctors, so we do find local talent. Kuwait provides a great medical education and after their education Kuwaitis often move to the UK, the US, or Germany and later come back with more experience. For nursing, the situation is more manageable; we can get them on board usually within a month.