What challenges does the healthcare sector in Oman face, and how should healthcare providers such as Starcare align their strategic priorities to overcome them?
A prolonged low oil price environment may influence the budget, and, therefore, healthcare spending. A good percentage of local patients travel abroad to seek treatment due to a lack of specialized providers and long waiting periods. Limited specialized care in areas such as oncology, cardiac surgeries, and other elective surgical cases are driving outbound medical tourism. Private-sector involvement is becoming imperative to meet the rising demand for healthcare as well as to reduce the burden on government finances. Government policies to increase insurance coverage and provide other infrastructure support are drawing investors to the healthcare sector. Efforts to improve the basic health indicators are leading to a shift from curative to preventive care. The rising prevalence of chronic diseases alongside an anticipated increase in lifestyle disorders is also prompting the need for long-term and post-acute care facilities. Starcare Group operates hospitals in Seeb and Barka as well as large medical centers in Bousher, Duqm, and Samail. The group is rapidly expanding its footprint across Oman, and its Cuddles Women's and Children's Hospital in Al Hail, the first of its kind in Oman, will be operational by mid-2020. Starcare Health City, the largest private hospital in Oman, is another ambitious project and will be functional by 2023.
The broader health sector is bound to undergo a strong privatization process. What are the main business opportunities for the private sector?
Oman's healthcare market is likely to witness a huge transformation. The Ministry of Health is counting on private players to further improve the quality and standard of care in the healthcare sector, thereby opening up new investment opportunities. Oman's healthcare sector is all set for further growth, aided by the introduction of mandatory health insurance for expats. The government has decided to introduce a compulsory health insurance, Dhamani, to create a private healthcare industry capable of meeting the demands of the local market, which will in turn strengthen the private sector. The main purpose of this move is to support the national healthcare industry and create huge opportunities for the medical insurance industry. By the time the schemes of the health insurance are finalized, it will have targeted around 2 million people in Oman.
What is the key to balancing profitability and affordability in Oman?
In Oman, about 45% of the population is made up of expats who work in the private sector. The government's decision to make health insurance mandatory for expats is merely a tool to develop the industry. The introduction of this insurance scheme will provide the required health services to 45% of the population employed in the private sector. The idea is to create a private healthcare industry that can meet the demands of the local market and strengthen the private sector. Over a period of time, the entire population, including Omanis, will have health insurance.
Where do you expect technological advancements to have the biggest impact?
The healthcare industry is at the forefront of technological transformations, with medical and digital technologies assisting in the mitigation and prevention of both communicable and NCDs. The UAE start-up company, Quanterium Blockchain Solutions, has been one of the principal innovators in the country, using AI, big data, Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), blockchain, robotics, and AR and VR to find solutions such as 3D diagnostics, patient records, and other healthcare management platforms. These are in line with global trends, positioning the region as a future leader in this space. AI-based cognitive technologies are proving to be most useful for drug discovery and research, clinical decision support, medical imaging, and diagnostics capabilities. In recent years, the majority of health technology start-ups in the region have focused on radiology solutions, with innovators designing various algorithms that use deep learning to interpret medical images, thereby accurately diagnosing diseases such as breast cancer and tuberculosis.