How has your range of health services evolved in recent years, and what are the main reasons behind this evolution of services?
We have experienced considerable growth since we began operations in 2013 and in 2017 were statistics showed the hospital to be among the top three in Dubai in terms of patient activities. This is a remarkable achievement with less than five years of operation and illustrates the diversification strategy we are actively pursuing at Al Zahra. Fundamental to this diversification strategy is the development of centers of excellence within different specializations. An example is our fully-fledged program for obesity, which includes bariatric services both surgically and medically, it is accredited by both the European Board of Bariatric Surgery. Additionally, we have an advanced center for minimal invasive gynecology surgeries focusing on pelvic and female diseases such as endometriosis and gynecological disorders. The center is accredited by the surgical review committee of the US. We have lately got a third Center of Excellence in orthopedics & sports injuries accredited by the prestigious Joint International. We are in the discovery phases of further developing centers of Excellence cancer, oncology, and gastroenterology. These centers offer best-in class services and differentiate the hospital and help define our growth strategy. And this is reflected by the increase of patients who seek treatment with us.
What is your assessment of other gaps in the market or opportunities and challenges in the healthcare industry?
From a supply and demand perspective, some services are notably over served while others remain underserved. In particular, more beds need to be added in Dubai for adults and pediatrics, which require access to critical care services. Moreover, even though supply has increased in the market, long-term care, palliative care, and rehab services are still underserved. These challenges are exacerbated by labor challenges such as the acquisition, onboarding, and retention of overseas talent. Al Zahra believes in continuously developing our staff and has implemented a system whereby we efficiently manage, support, and engage with our employees. As investors in people, we were recently accredited by the UK-based Investors in People organization at the gold level. This has been instrumental in reducing our staff turnover, which is now below 3%. Adopting a healthy people management system ensures that we have the healthcare professionals we need to meet the growth of key services. This growth includes adding more beds and increasing capacity at our facilities. A holistic retention strategy pays dividends, as staff are an integral asset of a hospital environment, and a contented workforce will inevitably lead to a positive patient experience.
Is healthcare becoming more of an attractive industry for local talent?
There are a significant number of Emiratis deployed across different areas of the healthcare ecosystem, with administration areas typically seeing a healthy supply from the domestic talent pool. We have also observed a steady supply of highly qualified local doctors and nurses, and we have number of them working for us on a full-time basis, which is typically not common for private healthcare. Others, meanwhile, work in different engagements, whether it is community based or part-time arrangements. Emirati doctors come from excellent educational backgrounds and have had access to high-quality training, which is reflected in the performance we have observed with the local doctors leading some of our clinical divisions. We have an ambitious strategy in place to get more Emirati doctors onboard in 2019.
What are your initiatives to tackle lifestyle-related diseases here?
This is a global issue; our modern lifestyles are significantly more sedentary, with fewer activities and increased access to unhealthy food options. The healthcare system along with Dubai Health Authority (DHA), and public and private hospitals are advocating a policy of 'prevention is better than cure.' We seek to create further awareness by going to schools, colleges, and universities to engage with the youth and explain the impact of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Conducting screenings at our hospitals and during outreach programs is major component of the awareness drive. Interestingly, we hold a Guinness World Record for the maximum number of cholesterol screenings in eight hours at one of our outreach programs in a major Dubai mall. This involved 100 nurses and 20 doctors and over 2,400 participants, and the goal was to inform the public on the dangers of high cholesterol. With regards to treatment, we have a heart attack center open 24/7 with patients for chest pain issues and a door-to-needle benchmark of 90 minutes. We have 24/7 availability of interventional cardiologists and the arrangements to meet these issues. Additionally, our diabetes center helps manage requirements, including insulin pumps and educating patients. The creation of awareness works both at the prevention as well as the treatment levels.
How do we create better value in the healthcare ecosystem in the UAE?
Healthcare costs are increasing globally, and in 10-15 years this will be unsustainable. Healthcare amounts to around 20% of the GDP of the US, and patients globally are becoming more aware about how much they pay for treatment when they tally costs or analyze insurance premiums. Dubai has stepped up efforts to create better cost effectiveness; DHA has a KPI program that monitors outcomes such as length of stay, re-admission, or complications experienced. These are all reported and analyzed to establish better outcomes, while hospitals are will soon be given a rating system that allows patients to be informed on the value to expect. The project is in its infancy stage, and when it matures, it should deliver greater cost effectiveness across the entire healthcare system to provide sustainability.
How do you see Dubai's reputation as a medical tourism hub developing?
Dubai has an encouraging outlook for health tourism, with an expected 500,000 medical tourists by 2020. According to the Dubai Medical Tourism Council, we have reached over 300,000 medical tourists, with many coming from the other Emirates, other GCC countries, Africa, or other parts of the world. To be more attractive, we need to create better cost effectiveness without compromising quality. This will allow us to compete against other healthcare destinations. There is an initiative run by the tourism council in conjunction with major private health providers whereby packaged solutions are combined to make medical tourism easier. There are partnerships with major hotels, regional airlines, and hospitals. This is part of the wider Dubai Health experience (DXH) platform, which was inaugurated by HH Sheikh Handan and has been growing in momentum since.
How will AI transform the healthcare industry as a whole, and where will this add the greatest value to patients' lives?
AI is disrupting many industries globally with healthcare being heavily influenced; however, the industry remains reliant on human interaction. In diagnostics, we see significant benefits with the use of algorithms that allow greater precision, enhanced capabilities, and a reduction in screening time. Technology is rapidly evolving alongside machine learning, and there are now robots that can adjust to the personal traits and habits of particular surgeons. This happens automatically without significant adjustment and readjustment. Knowledge mining is also redefining healthcare; we can access a huge pool of data for research and treatment purposes through blockchain with increased confidentiality. Furthermore, chat bots allow patients to establish dialog with a learning machine that can address their medical queries. Dubai is at the forefront of AI and has the willingness and conviction harness its benefits.