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Sherif Bechara, CEO, American Hospital at the Medical Library of the American Hospital, Oud Metha, Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: The American Hospital, Dubai has been in the forefront of healthcare delivery and innovation, having introduced the first ever robotic surgery facility recently. With its advanced centres of excellence in oncology and rehabilitation along with several facilities for gynaecology, pediatrics, urology, endocrinology and wellness, run by US and Canadian board-certified specialists, the JCI accredited hospital is looking to add research and innovation to its credit as well.

In sync with the UAE’s vision for the future of healthcare and medical tourism, the hospital intends to expand its AI applications, explore nanotechnology applications that are FDA approved, and start satellite clinics for more effective and affordable health care delivery. Sherif Bechara, CEO of American Hospital in conversation with Gulf News talks about the unique qualities that make American Hospital one of the leading healthcare centers in Dubai.

Q: What is the main thrust of American Hospital’s healthcare policy that sets it apart from other healthcare facilities?

A: Since its inception in 1996, American Hospital has focused on the patient and patient needs. Our focus has never been revenue and numbers. Quantity was never a priority as this comes automatically with high quality medical services. We do not place excessive emphasis on statistics, yet focus on caring for people.

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Sherif Bechara, CEO, American Hospital, in conversation with Gulf News Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Q: What are the firsts this hospital has achieved?

A: The American Hospital, Dubai was the first to perform bilateral knee and hip replacement surgeries, Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS) using navigation, cochlear implant and speech therapy, provide state of the art comprehensive cancer diagnostic and therapeutic treatment utilizing Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography (PET/CT) scanner with the injection of Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), Ablation Therapy, Cardiac Electrophysiology services, laparoscopic surgery, and we had the first OR for eurospinal surgery utilizing neuronavigation with O Arm (a CT in the OR). When started in 1996, we were one of the largest private hospitals with 100 beds and kept expanding as the demand for quality healthcare grew. By 2010, we had 245 beds.

Q: How do you see American Hospital playing an important role in cancer research and care as this is one of the top non- communicable diseases here in the UAE and its growing incidence is a cause for concern?

A: We have a full-fledged oncology center that offers chemo, radio, surgical and immunotherapy services. We have initiated several internal studies on cancer research, and by June 2020 we will start an oncology Center of Excellence that will be dedicated to diagnosing and treating all kinds of pediatric and adult cancers. Our vision is to focus on extensive and latest research and development in the field of cancer. We also plan to further customize cancer treatments using Artificial Intelligence as well as targeted therapies.

Q: You have done some pioneering work in Robotics and cancer research? Can you throw some light on it?

A: Recently, in January 2020, we introduced Robotic surgery and became the first private hospital in Dubai to introduce the da Vince XI robot in UAE. Robotic surgery is currently carried out in general surgery, urology and gynecology. We have proudly conducted 18 robotic surgeries with excellent clinical outcomes. Robotic surgery is about precision and speed - the patient’s length of stay in hospital is reduced, so is/her surgical site infection as it is minimally invasive procedure and adds value to the patient’s experience and caps the cost on health insurance.

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American Hospital, Dubai, in Oud Mehta Image Credit: Supplied

Q: What are the other noteworthy super specialties at American Hospital?

A: We have a state-of-the-art rehabilitation department that caters to both neuro and physical rehabilitations. In addition to comprehensive cardiac services ranging from diagnostic using (MRI, PET/CT, SPECT/CT, CT, Bi-Plane Cathlab with electrophysiology services, Stress Echo, Holter, Telemetry, Transtelephonic services) – supported by an elite cardiac surgery team.. Not to mention that with the increasing incidence of lifestyle diseases we have an advanced endocrinology department that caters to patients of diabetes, thyroid and other hormonal disorders.

Q: What is the Unique Selling Proposition of American Hospital?

A: We place as much emphasize on preventive health as we do on treatment protocols. We have facilities for regular and comprehensive health check-ups. The unique thing about American Hospital is that not only do we have general physicians, but we also have family health doctors who are US or Canadian board-certified specialists and are well-trained & equipped to handle urgent care patients. In fact, it is a well- known fact that 70% of patients in ERs are not in for life saving but urgent care patients... We are also proud to be the first private healthcare organization in the middle east to receive JCI accreditation and to be affiliated to the Mayo Clinic Care Network.

Q: How can one make health care more affordable for the masses. Is your organization only targeting premium and privileged customers or is there something for the common man as well?

A: While we are leading in terms of facilities, research and treatments, the management of American Hospital is aware of its community responsibilities, through our charity group Al Shifa Charity Fund, we reach out to the unprivileged and extend help wherever possible.

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Sherif Bechara, CEO, American Hospital, in conversation with Gulf News Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Q: What needs to be done according to you to increase more medical tourism footfall?

A: We are completely in sync with the Dubai Medial tourism targets and feel the responsibility to invite more patients from the region to the UAE for treatment purposes. We have outreach facilities in China, Nigeria, Kuwait and Pakistan where we held roadshows. In Nigeria for instance, we have set up an office for medical tourism and intend to bring in patients from East Africa through that office. We will adopt the same strategy for other countries in South East Asia and tap into the market there. People trust, and were travelling to Europe and US for treatments, but we are steadily building the same trust in our services. We have set optimistic goals that in one-year time we will be able to translate all our efforts into a sizable traffic of medical tourists from these countries.

Q: What needs to be done to make health care insurance more relevant to the average Dubai expatriate and is there anything people can do to make insurance premiums more affordable?

A: There is a need for greater trust between healthcare and health insurance systems. While misuse of medical facilities must stop, there is also need for health care insurances to blatantly reject expenses. Instead of specific descriptions, what we need are categories and ranges that will come with the DRG system of billing soon to be implemented. This will help streamline billing and bring more transparency. Both sectors need to hold joint workshops on transparency and trust-building where common mistakes can be highlighted and both sides be educated on the best way forward.

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American Hospital, part of Mohamed & Obeid Al Mulla Group, one of the leading pioneers of private healthcare in the Middle East, is proudly inaugurated its robotic surgery services. The hospital is the first medical facility in Dubai to offer the fourth generation of the da Vinci Xi surgical system to conduct robotic surgery services, solidifying the Emirate’s position on a regional scale as a hub for medical tourism for patients seeking world-class professional care. Image Credit: Supplied

Q: Would you say the vision of the American Hospital policymakers is in sync with that of the rulers of UAE and Dubai in particular who has laid out an elaborate plan for health care in Dubai and the UAE?

A: We are in complete harmony with the UAE’s clear vision and strategy for healthcare and its sustainable goals. We too, are focusing on introducing new techniques such as robotic surgery, starting centers of excellence to accelerate the goals of healthcare delivery to the patients. We are not just looking at treatments but investing in prevention by focusing on research and development, especially in the field of cancer. We also believe that Artificial Intelligence and nanotechnology is the way forward in healthcare. Annually, by the end of 2020, the world would have spent a total of $6.6 billion on AI, and by 2026 the world will be spending $150 million a year. Our robotics and super specialty centers using Artificial Intelligence and nanotechnology will help reduce the length of stay in hospital and make treatments more cost-effective and affordable for patients.

Q: What are the plans for future expansion of the Hospital?

A: We plan to start several satellite clinics in Dubai that will cater to patients and provide services closer to home. We are planning to start three clinics, in Khawaneej, Dubai Hills and the Mira starting from April-September 2020. The satellite clinics, as the name suggests will be connected to the main Hospital. Patients seen at these clinics will be referred to the Hospital in case of an emergency or advanced treatment requirement such as surgery or oncology or rehabilitation. The purpose behind these satellite clinics is to make healthcare more accessible to people right at their doorstep.