What are some of the key challenges in Oman's healthcare sector, and how can healthcare providers such as Burjeel Hospital align their strategic priorities to face these challenges?
Traveling abroad for healthcare is a declining trend in specific areas, such as oncology. Trust in the private sector has grown. For example, while tertiary care is still dominated by public facilities, our goal is to increase our activities in tertiary segment and complex cases. We have started chemotherapy, cardiac catheterizations, and spine surgeries, receiving confidence from high-profile cases. There should be healthy competition in the market in the sense that the private sector should expand into tertiary care and not be limited to primary and secondary care. Moreover, to efficiently reverse this trend of outward medical tourism and instead attract patients from abroad, healthcare providers should capitalize on the natural beauty of the country. As such, we have a plan to set up a natural wellness center for rehabilitation along the coastline.
What are the main business opportunities for the private sector under Vision 2040?
PPPs will allow the government to reduce its spending on healthcare. Outsourcing different areas to private centers is a huge opportunity to improve efficiency and increase private-sector contribution. Muscat has a plethora of hospitals, but in the peripheries of the country, there are still many opportunities for the private sector to engage. Small hospital centers instead of clinics are the way forward to attract patient in the hamlets, and only after, if necessary, can one move patients to larger centers in the city.
What is the key to balancing profitability and affordability?
Healthcare costs will be determined by two factors: equipment and human resources. Machines are always a huge problem given that they quickly become outdated; however, with AI in the picture, dependence on human resources can be reduced. AI will require a hefty investment, but it will deliver quality, and in the medium to long run, it will drive down costs. The key to balancing profitability and affordability is delivering quality services that prevent multiple cycles of treatment for the same patient. Once the quality goes up, profitability will improve. At the same time, the rollout of a mandatory insurance scheme will ensure a greater degree of affordability. Mandatory insurance is a necessary measure because it will increase hospital visits and benefit blue-collar workers.
Where do you expect technological advances, such as automation, AI, IoT, and digitalization of services to have the highest impact in the healthcare sector?
Computers with cognitive functions will affect all aspects of healthcare provision. Computers can store large amounts of data, which AI can analyze, making professions such as radiologists obsolete, for example. Google has launched an eye scanner that can diagnose diabetic retinopathy, a condition that leads to blindness. After continuous studies on the eye scanner, doctors are able to use it to predict heart attacks with a timespan of up to one year with unprecedented accuracy. This example shows the immense capabilities of AI, which as doctors we have to embrace. Doctors will still be required, but diagnoses will be much more efficient than the past. While AI will impact treatment at a later stage, diagnosis and prevention areas will witness a strong impact.
What role does Burjeel Hospital play in Oman's healthcare sector?
Oman was missing the sort of infrastructure required to meet the demands of the higher social classes. As such, Burjeel Hospital undertook a series of investments to raise the level of quality care and prevent these people from traveling abroad for treatment. Today, anyone who comes to our hospital can afford our costs; ministers, royal family members, and top executives all come to Burjeel Hospital to receive top-notch healthcare treatment combined with the kind of luxury that is similar to a seven-star hotel. Such an environment makes it also easier for the doctors, as the patient's mindset is much more relaxed.