FULL MEDICAL

Lebanon 2015 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Walid Hallassou, General Manager of GlobeMed Lebanon, on the healthcare industry in Lebanon and the firm's commitment to innovation.

What is your assessment of GlobeMed Lebanon's performance in 2014?

The performance of GlobeMed Lebanon in 2014 was excellent. As expected and projected in 2013, we were able to succeed not only at the financial level, but also in strategic objectives, particularly new initiatives related to care management. As a third-party administrator (TPA), we are an organization that manages the medical insurance portfolio of insurance companies, mutual funds, and self-funded schemes (collectively called Risk Carriers), controls the bills, and is able to negotiate better tariffs and conditions with the hospitals. We excel at this, but we also want to take a step further toward the management of care. In order to do that, we need to focus on preventative care and disease management measures. We have set up wellness programs so people who are healthy can stay healthy, and disease management programs so that people with chronic illness can live better with their conditions. We have also partnered with an NGO called Balsam that takes care of people who have terminal illnesses, and we are working with them on a research project to show that palliative care decreases cost and increases quality of life. We also sponsor a football academy for children between ages four and 16, the GlobeMed Racing Football Academy; they eat better, exercise more, and stay healthier, which in turn has a positive influence on the lifestyle of their families and the communities they live in.

What is the role of innovation and technology for GlobeMed Lebanon?

Innovation and technology play a huge role for the GlobeMed Group, next to human resources. I would say they constitute the backbone of the organization. I will not dwell on the IT solutions used to run our business, and which is in continuous development, but will focus on the new tools being built to accompany our new care strategy. We are setting up our GlobeMed Mobile App, which is still in its first phase. It includes basic functions such as policy conditions and listings for nearby providers, hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics, and other basic information. In the second phase, the app will include functions related to healthy lifestyles such as nutrition plans, diet, and exercises. It will also take into consideration seasons, like Ramadan, Christmas, summer, and so on. We are also going to create a web portal that is going to mirror the mobile app. In addition to the portal and mobile app, the entire strategy integrates a clinic as the core element of the care programs, staffed by family doctors, gynecologists, pediatricians, dentists, and dieticians. It will offer prevention consultations, awareness campaigns, and diet counseling for people suffering from diabetes or hypertension.

“I support PPPs, especially because the public sector in Lebanon needs improvement."

How does GlobeMed Lebanon work with GlobeMed in other countries in terms of exchanging know-how and expertise?

GlobeMed Limited is the franchisor and the coordinator of all the activities of the different GlobeMed companies, which are GlobeMed Lebanon, GlobeMed Qatar, GlobeMed Kuwait, GlobeMed Saudi, and so on, all operating as TPAs. GlobeMed Limited gives the TPAs the IT systems, the operating procedures, the organizational structure, the KPIs, the contracts with our providers, suppliers, and clients. GlobeMed Limited conducts workshops, takes best practices from different operations, and disseminates them so we can learn from each other. We have a strong migration of talent between operations. An employee that has experience here has the opportunity to go to another operation outside Lebanon, especially if it is a new one that requires people with experience to set it up. Lebanon in particular sends out talent to the different operations. We also have an e-learning platform, where all the employees of the company, depending on their position and role, are required to take courses and exams online to make sure they have learned the basic modules that are needed to stay competitive. We also have e-learning courses for our suppliers, such as a pharmacy, which has joined us and wants to understand how we operate.

What is your assessment of the current condition of the healthcare industry in Lebanon?

Despite deficiencies and weaknesses in the political and economic climate in Lebanon, the education, healthcare, and insurance sectors are strong. It is widely known that the schools, universities, and hospitals in Lebanon are the best in the region, and the insurance sector is more advanced than any other in the region. Lebanon is the first or second in terms of insurance penetration. This is a pretty good indicator of the level of maturity that this sector has. On a regulatory level, the insurance sector is regulated through the Ministry of Economy, which is doing a pretty good job, though there are some hiccups that need to be addressed. The TPA industry, however, is not regulated. There is no need for a license; anyone can create a TPA company and start operating, which is not very healthy in the sense that it creates unhealthy competition and does not set standards for quality of service. Regulation is important, especially if it is handled by a professional entity. In the healthcare delivery level, of course, the Ministry of Health is the regulator, and all things considered, it is doing a good job as well.

What is the importance of public-private partnerships (PPPs) for the further development of the Lebanese healthcare sector?

I support PPPs, especially because the public sector in Lebanon needs improvement. Around 50% of the population of Lebanon relies on the Ministry of Health, while about 25% rely on the national social security fund. The public sector covers about 75%, and there is a need for improvement in management of the relationship with the medical service providers and the administration of their medical schemes. Social security, for example, has great coverage in terms of benefits that are provided to the employees of the private and public sectors. However, because the tariffs for social security are low, sometimes the hospital asks patients to pay extra amounts, and because of the inefficient administration, when a patient send bills to be reimbursed by social security, reimbursements are not recovered for up to 2 years sometimes. The efficient management of the processes that are needed to adequately serve the population is non-existent, and this is where a private entity can come in with the public sector and help them improve their service delivery through a PPP.

What are GlobMed's plans and expectations for 2015?

GlobeMed Group is already present in 12 countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nigeria, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi, Syria, and the UAE. On the expansion strategy, we have an expansion plan in Oman, which is the only GCC country where we do not have a legal entity as yet; however, we have a network of hospitals that are contracted with us, so people who travel to Oman can be served, and there is an expansion plan that is being worked on for North Africa, in Tunisia and Algeria. Iraq is also on the radar, but the security and political situations are standing in the way. On the servicing strategy, and as discussed earlier, we are moving toward wellness, prevention, and disease management in order to decrease cost, improve quality of life, and enhance the customer experience. This is going to be one of the biggest initiatives that GlobeMed Lebanon is going to undertake in 2015.

© The Business Year - March 2015