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UAE's healthcare must start thinking single specialty hospitals

Midway into the year, the war against COVID-19 continues to rage, while the pandemic fights back with equal viciousness. Healthcare systems test new boundaries, searching for fresh avenues to counter the situation, driven by the urgency to find sustainable solutions as well as to maximise healthcare outreach with minimum spread of the virus.

There’s no denying that the UAE has done a commendable job in controlling COVID-19. Now is the time to push the envelope even further to fortify the local healthcare system against any ongoing repercussions from the virus – and any other situation that may arise in the future. One of the biggest concerns is to propel the healthcare system back to its feet and create a viable environment for stable growth. While doing so, we need to keep in view the unique, yet constantly evolving, demographics and plan accordingly.

One such need is single speciality centres – where each speciality is treated in entirety in designated medical centres only. The concept is not a new one; an increasing number of healthcare systems are adopting the single speciality centre model, witnessing a strong boost in both quality and quantity of specialty services. Particularly in the West, these have proved to be effective in terms of saving time and money, while creating a strong, cohesive and integrated medical eco-system.

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Build on gains made

In the UAE – where demand for advanced tertiary care is already high among local and international patients – time is ripe for such centres. The UAE is set to attract thousands of medical tourists on a daily basis. Dubai stands sixth on the global ranking and first among Arab countries in the Global Medical Tourism Index.

The MENA alone generates outbound medical tourism revenue to the tune of $20 billion. This augurs an incredibly positive vibe for the medical tourism industry, fuelling the need for the UAE to further strengthen its healthcare system to include the latest innovations designed to reduce cost and promote convenience. In this regard, single speciality centres – and even standalone surgical centres – will be an integral driver in meeting the upcoming demand.

An increasing number of expats are viewing UAE as their home where they would like to spend their retired lives. So, the elderly population is gradually rising as well. These demographics bring with them a higher demand for treatment for chronic diseases such as cardiac and diabetes and which require intensive tertiary care.

Cut down hospital visits

The single speciality model further encourages an integrated healthcare system where medical centres and hospitals will be able to share a patient’s medical history and monitor it when needed. Using technology as a vital tool to help unify medical records, patients can have access to personalised care allowing predictive health.

An identification – which could be Emirates ID – will be sufficient for doctors to access medical and family history which eliminates the need for the patient’s multiple visits to hospitals. A single point of contact could be the GP or family physician who can manage the patient’s health through the monitoring devices with a proper referral mechanism to speciality centres. Patients will visit the hospital only for surgical procedures, while the post-operation and maintenance will be the job of the family physician.

So, what are the challenges that we need to address? Among the biggest challenges is the high cost of treatment. In addition to quality, price is a key factor why patients travel overseas. In this regard, while UAE offers top-notch medical treatment, but it comes at a price due to economy of scales.

Alliances can do the needful

This is where strong public-private partnerships play a crucial role in order to create a complete eco-system that supports the healthcare industry. Germany, for instance, has a state-controlled price system, which does not allow all hospitals to treat specialities. Instead, there are designated centres for each. Same is the case with Singapore, where public-private partnership is quite strong.

Similarly, involving public entities in tie ups with private healthcare institutions can also reap great dividends. One such example is how Germany tied up with Lufthansa Airlines, where the airline offered various promotional packages for medical tourism for inbound patients to Germany.

In short, innovation, coupled with convenience, are the way to go forward. The changing economic dynamics of the new normal demands that, while at the same time draw inspiration from across the world.

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