Hospitals are looking to innovate to provide high-quality experiences to patients Image Credit: Shutterstock

With the UAE healthcare market forecast to grow to Dh102 billion in 2021 from an estimated Dh69.4 billion this year, the private sector is leading the way, ably supported by the government. Government bodies are looking to public-private partnerships (PPPs) to realise the goal of providing world-class healthcare, one of the six pillars of the UAE’s National Agenda in its Vision 2021.

“Dubai Health Authority expects PPPs to increase in ambulatory care, home care, long-term stay and day-surgery centres, driven by its health strategy,” says Krishna Dhanak, Executive Director of Alpen Capital, a financial services organisation offering industry-based research reports. “The authority has entered into eight MoUs with private hospitals to exchange expertise with public hospitals to deliver quality healthcare.”

The top-down approach to funding and policy support offered by the UAE government is not lost on healthcare service providers, and those benefits are felt throughout the economy. “We are fortunate that we are in a country that has a robust healthcare governance system in place, ensuring patient safety, which is key to the success of a healthcare provider,” says Taher Shams, Managing Director of Zulekha Hospitals.“With high-quality care becoming accessible easily, residents avoid travelling out for treatments. The UAE thus becomes a preferred hub for quality critical care.”

That’s not to say the industry is not without its pressures. The local healthcare services market is characterised by high levels of demand, which will put a strain on facilities and staff if not managed carefully.

“The cost of healthcare has been rising due to growing incidence of lifestyle diseases, technological advancements and limited availability of specialised care,” says Dhanak.

The UAE’s national and expatriate population is growing and as life expectancy increases, the population is also ageing, which brings greater demand for specialised geriatric care.

Non-communicable diseases are a major factor contributing to demand for UAE healthcare services. “GCC countries have one of the highest prevalence of diabetes and obesity in the world, given the sedentary lifestyles and increased consumption of foods that are high in calories and sugar,” says Dhanak.

Smoking-related conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease are also widely prevalent in the country.

“The speed of technological advancements, geopolitical disturbances changing the demographics of the region, lack of skilled manpower, alongside the responsibility of providing high-quality, cost-effective healthcare services will keep the pressure high on healthcare providers,” says Shams.

New facilities are being built to meet the demand. Alpen Capital figures show the GCC has more than 700 healthcare projects worth Dh223.7 billion under various stages of development. Eight-five per cent of this is being spent on hospital projects and rest towards clinics and research centres.

“With new hospital developments under way, the competition to hire experienced and skilled physicians, nurses and allied workforce is set to intensify and will be a pressure given their inherent shortage and growing nationalisation of jobs,” says Dhanak.

One area of growth that responds to both high demand and an increasingly sophisticated client base is remote healthcare.

“Telemedicine, home healthcare and long-term care are outperforming traditional health service providers such as hospitals and clinics,” according to Arab Health’s GCC Healthcare industry overview. “In the GCC healthcare market, we will see more and more medical technologies home based, with remote monitoring through mobile health apps and home-based diagnostics, to free up beds for more advanced cases.”

A market that is experiencing a sharp increase in demand needs to grow rapidly while maintaining high-quality service levels, a challenging task for policymakers requiring close management.

Healthcare providers realise that a tailored approach is best suited to meeting the changing needs of the market. “Technological advances and upgraded expertise of physicians is our focus. We will also continue to reinvent and innovate patient experiences and progress with quality rather than quantity in the years to come,” says Shams.