How is the government continuing its work to promote Abu Dhabi as a medical tourism destination?
When we compare Abu Dhabi to the rest of the region, we are best-in-class in terms of quantity and quality. Not only we do have more clinics, expertise, and hospitals, but we can also count on facilities such as the Cleveland Clinic, Imperial College, King's College, and a huge public sector with well-known doctors. The ultimate goal for 2018 is to work alongside other government entities to promote Abu Dhabi as a medical tourism hub. Therefore, the department is taking all the necessary steps to build up its sustainable capabilities by adopting a culture of innovation and fostering R&D to advance the sector to meet the demand of medical tourists and position Abu Dhabi as a leading medical tourism destination. One of the necessary steps we have already taken is to collaborate with the Department of Culture and Tourism to develop a smart portal through which people can apply for a visa, receive an answer within two hours, book a medical appointment, estimate costs, and book tickets and accommodation. Two thirds of the world's population is only a three-hour flight from Abu Dhabi, which means patients can come here instead of the US and receive the same care. World-class medical brand names already operate here, not to mention some of the finest brands in travel and hospitality. Now with the government redoubling its efforts to draw in even more tourists, we are keen to tap and exploit the significant opportunities of the global medical tourism market, which is estimated to reach USD46.6 billion by 2021.
Where do you see new technologies having the biggest impact?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing area expected to play a central role in improving healthcare in terms of quality, access, safety, and affordability. We are working to distinguish Abu Dhabi as a hub for AI and provide the necessary infrastructure and government support to attract major players and leverage the next generation of technologies. In terms of innovation, the latest innovation awards were given, along with large-scale funding, to the ideas that addressed some of the government's major challenges such as TIP healthcare awards. Finally, we had a pilot oncology project with IBM's Watson, and plan to announce a future partnership aimed at leveraging these technologies across a number of services in the medical sphere here.
How does the recently announced primary care standard fit into the Department of Health's goals?
Similar to the best health systems in the world, we use primary care as a gatekeeper. In a primary healthcare setting, a highly trained physician or consultant with extensive experience and expertise diagnoses patients, thus reducing the cost of the government. Eventually, if the patient needs to see a specialist, the primary care expert will refer any additional care accurately and effectively. The next step is to ensure that urgent and emergency care settings are more clearly distinguished and classified so that patients can seek care at the proper facility. Additionally, we will soon establish and implement our secondary and tertiary standards and centers of excellence.
What are your major projects in the pipeline for the near term?
By reviewing and updating our 2015 strategy, we seek to create a clear roadmap for all relevant stakeholders for the next 20 years. The government cannot always be the biggest player in the health space, which is why we are in the midst of a shift toward increased private sector participation and leveraging the strong infrastructure that Abu Dhabi offers. In this sense, we are working on establishing a governance framework and a medical council to hear input from the payer side, the private sector, the government, and the regulator. Creating dialog is vital, and it allows us to create collective decisions that are the product of widespread contributions.