While the world debates the virtues of private vs public healthcare, the GCC is busy pioneering medtech advances that transform lives.
The healthcare industry in the GCC can be difficult to understand. On the one hand, the GCC is a high-income region financed with oil-revenues but on the other, it is still classed as developing and issues such as diabetes, heart health and obesity are prevalent.
As these two sides compete, governments across the GCC have made several drastic changes to the structure of the healthcare system in recent years to ensure funding continues in an era of cheap oil and that results, driven by the latest advances, continue their upward trajectory.
Saudi was the first to make the transition to compulsory medical insurance in 2005 and the rest of the GCC followed soon after. Today, all GCC countries operate under an insured healthcare model with policies in such high demand they drive an average growth of 11% CAGR in the GCC’s total insurance industry. Through the National Transformation Program, Saudi will privatise all services by 2020, changing government hospitals into semi-private companies.
Current systems provide at least partial free care for nationals and mandate private health cover for expatriates, with treatment conducted at any one of the state-of-the-art health facilities across the region, depending on the level of cover.
In Saudi Arabia, healthcare is provided through Ministry of Health (MoH) hospitals, government, and private hospitals, and the Kingdom is expected to require 15,888 new beds in 2018, accounting for almost 50% of total requirements in the GCC.
In the UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have both introduced mandatory health insurance since 2016, which must be provided by an expatriate’s employer, and health authorities in both emirates have streamlined the services subsidised for nationals.
It is this structure that has allowed the GCC health industry to advance capabilities and work in areas other countries have not and this is led just as much by technology as it is healthcare.
For example, in the UAE in 2017 doctors performed the first multiorgan cadaver transplant in the country, which was a significant milestone for Emirati medicine. Additionally, free treatment of three types of cancer was introduced for those with the most basic insurance coverage.
However, hospitals also introduced smart medical records, enhancing how, where and why patient information is collected and stored. On the back of such advances, health and wellness tourism increased 12% during the year, with 350,000 visitors recorded.
In Saudi Arabia’s MoH hospitals in 2017, the number of beds increased by 1,822. Additionally, the number of one-day surgeries increased from 44% to 55% and 65 new health centres opened. However, most crucially, the kingdom launched its health app, modern health care model and the health performance programme aimed at raising the levels of productivity and efficiency across 70 hospitals. Government spending on healthcare in the kingdom is expected to read US$1.1 billion by 2020.
On the back of its efficient financial and operational structure, the GCC’s thriving healthcare industry has become a test bed for some of the most life-changing medical advances and technologies available today.
Showcasing some of these achievements, the Dubai Health Forum 2018 saw the unveiling of solutions based on nanotechnology, AI, digital medicine in genomics and gene coding to tackle lifestyle diseases and tailor-make cures to highlight the value of personalised medicine.
Further, long-distance, robot conducted surgeries were introduced along with digital patient records, smart solutions for geriatric health and 3D printing for prosthetics, orthopedics and other aids and medicines.
Driving high-tech healthcare, the utilisation of big data and clinical analytics are tipped to increase quality and cost efficiency of treatment around the world, including crowdsourced diagnostics and shared knowledge between hospitals, doctors, and healthcare providers. Electronic health records (EHR), IoT enabled devices and mobile connections are all tipped to cause waves in 2018, with the GCC on track to lead early implementation.
As a result, expertise in clinical coding, data analytics, information governance, informatics, and clinical documentation improvement (CDI) are all in high demand.
But when ICT comes into focus, so too does cybersecurity and the vast amounts of sensitive data in healthcare must be protected at every point in the chain.
GCC governments have prioritsed healthcare for more than 20 years however, now in the hands of the private sector the coming 20 years will be driven by technological advancements; new methods for diagnosis, treatment and aftercare; and a desire to protect not only the health of the nation, but the security of the devices that support it.