Dubai bolsters health credentials

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The medical industry in Dubai is set to receive a major boost from the country’s new five-year health care strategy.

Presented by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, in late January, the Dubai Health Strategy 2021 was developed as a five-year blueprint for improving the quality and cost effectiveness of health services in the emirate, and strengthening collaboration between the public and private sectors.

The four pillars on which the strategy has been built are health and lifestyle, excellence in providing service, smart health care and governance.

In particular, the government is looking to encourage private investment in medical tourism and related real estate development, along with key e-health services.

Private health shift

In recent years the Dubai Health Authority has focused on shifting the provision of health services from the public to the private sector, with a target 30:70 division of funding.

A combined Dh12.8bn ($3.5bn) was spent on health care in Dubai in 2014, with the private health sector accounting for roughly two-thirds of the total, at Dh8.5bn ($2.3bn). This represented a 37% increase over the private health care spend recorded in 2012.

“Globally, it’s been proven that health care services are more efficient when privatised,” David Hadley, CEO of Mediclinic Middle East, the largest private health care service provider in the UAE, told OBG. “Though the government should continue to provide health care to those who cannot afford private coverage.”

The shift towards private health services is being supported in large part by the full implementation of compulsory medical insurance, which is gradually being extended to cover all nationals as well as expatriate residents and workers.

Medical tourism draw

In an effort to building on growth in the local private health care market, one of Dubai Health Strategy 2021’s key objectives is to develop Dubai as a regional and international destination for medical tourism.

By the end of the decade, the country aims to more than triple the number of health visitors from the 135,000 guests posted in 2014 to 500,000 by 2020.

By capitalising on the emirate’s centralised location in the region and offering high-level services, Dubai officials estimate the medical tourism segment could generate up to Dh2.6bn ($708m) per annum by 2020.

“Medical tourism is an important sector, and is set to grow considerably in the coming years,” Mohaymen Abdelghany, CEO of the private Al Zahra Hospital, told OBG. “Thanks to prior investment, Dubai is well positioned to serve as a regional and international hub for these services.”

Recognising the potential for medical tourism revenues, investment in the sector has expanded, with 22 new health facilities – 18 private and four public – scheduled to open in the coming years.

Facilities and hospitality

Private real estate developments targeting the medical tourism segment offer another avenue for investment.

MAG Group, a local property developer, is currently building a large-scale wellness centre at Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), the free zone created in 2002 to cater to the growing medical segment.

“This project is part of a broader development that will include a hotel, private villas, residential areas and retail outlets,” Moafaq Ahamed Al Gaddah, chairman of MAG Group, told OBG. Residents will have direct access to treatment at the wellness centre, as well as the variety of international and local hospitals located in the DHCC, he added.

The free zone’s expansion plans have an increased focus on new hospitals and clinics, as well as pharmaceutical, research and wellness centres, and related infrastructure and development, Bader Saeed Hareb, CEO, Investment Sector, DHCC, told OBG.

“Phase 1 of DHCC, which has focused on health care services, education and research, has demonstrated steady growth at both strategic and operational levels,” he said. “Phase 2 of DHCC, which is currently under way, will achieve significant growth through unique wellness concepts and specialised hospitals with complementary residential offerings.”

Human resources and e-health

While development of physical infrastructure continues apace, the emirate is also focused on expanding and upgrading the sector’s human resources and IT capacity.

Stakeholders often identify attracting and retaining top specialists from abroad as one of the primary challenges facing the industry; continuing education on new procedures and treatments is another concern.

New government initiatives, including those outlined in the recently unveiled national health strategy, may hold the key.

The government has committed to stepping up investments in training and education, and to further developing human resources. Dubai Health Strategy 2021 also focuses on encouraging local research as a means of driving innovation and efficiency for medical and technical staff.

Alongside training, the emirate also plans to focus on developing stronger e-health infrastructure, ranging from electronic medical records (EMR) to health care apps.

This should grant greater flexibility to patients moving between treatment centres, while also offering opportunities for further private sector involvement.

“EMR vendors who supply small and medium-sized clinics, polyclinics and pharmacies will find a huge market in Dubai, as we have more than 2000 such establishments,” Humaid Al Qatami, chairman and director-general of the DHA, told OBG. “There is significant scope for growth for health information exchange companies and EMR companies, as well as smart app developers.”

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