GCC's healthcare challenges require collaboration with different stakeholders

The region is grappling with a burgeoning population and higher incidence of lifestyle diseases

There is an urgent need for a sustainable healthcare delivery model in which quality care is delivered while controlling cost. Silvia Razgova / The National
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In almost any healthcare setting, it is taken for granted that teamwork and collaboration are required to deliver the best medical care.

Think about it. The emergency department, the operating room, intensive care units, and even primary care well visits – they all involve at least a handful of professionals working together to serve the patient.

If in a hospital or clinic setting the best outcome is delivered when we start putting the patient at the center of our activities, then it is no surprise that partnerships, teamwork and collaboration are required to address the broad-based healthcare challenges facing the region.

In the GCC, a burgeoning population and the emergence of a middle class has brought new challenges, including an increase in ‘lifestyle diseases’ ranging from obesity and diabetes to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Here, there is an urgent need for a sustainable healthcare delivery model in which quality care is delivered while controlling cost. Over the past decade in efforts to ensure broader access to healthcare, governments have increased healthcare spending from an average of 2 per cent to 4 per cent of GDP. However, improvements in the quality of care have not kept pace and consequently, partnerships between the public and private sector are becoming a necessity now more than ever.

For Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, where there is a vibrant private sector and no shortage of skilled doctors and nurses, their biggest challenge is securing universal healthcare coverage while managing costs by improving efficiency and productivity.  In turn, these cost savings allow them to upgrade their national healthcare infrastructure, keeping up with the latest technology. We have recently observed major interest to invest in Egypt from GCC-based private providers, who are drawn by an expected strong return on investment resulting from high patient flow—fueled by the large and growing population of nearly 100 million.

Iraq, Syria and Yemen are in the process of rebuilding their healthcare delivery models, with Iraq leading the way as their Ministry of Health upgrades existing hospitals and purchases service from newly created private providers.

Public private partnerships are gaining momentum driven by the public sector’s need to improve quality of care while managing cost. The private sector is well-equipped to play an active role in transforming healthcare delivery, helping the public sector move away from the costly capital investment model to one in which high quality, efficient healthcare is provided without the large capital cost (a shift from capital expenditure to operating expenses).


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There are several significant PPPs in this region, including an impressive project in Turkey that will see the development of 29 healthcare facilities, including large medical cities. It will add more than 22,000 beds in a programme that will see private EPC’s fund, build, equip and service these facilities on behalf of the government for a period of more than 20 years. The operators will be paid on a fee-for-service basis combined with meeting other performance criteria.

PPP works best in an environment of transparency, visibility, and where there is confidence that the projects will run for the long term.

A great example of this transformation is what is taking place in Saudi Arabia, where the Ministry of Health and Prevention is preparing an request for proposal to partner with the private sector to run radiology departments across their network of hospitals.

Another PPP example in the UAE, involves GE Healthcare and our local partner Abu Dhabi International Medical Services managing radiology departments in 12 MOHP hospitals.  The project—known as Unison—is actively revamping service delivery, reducing waiting time and improving patient experience.

Of course, these PPPs, by definition, reflect the need for collaboration and partnership among many players.

The intersection of healthcare and digital, big data, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity data protection, and the relevant laws and regulations covering the protection and movement of patient information, are the subject of much debate today.

Getting the supporting legislation right is essential, because the benefits of digital healthcare are huge. There is a pressing need for adoption given that healthcare globally, and not just in this region, is a decade behind other industries in leveraging digitisation.

Initially, healthcare was drawn by the possibility of using big data to improve efficiencies and productivity, and to lower costs. But now, the industry is waking up to the potential of harvesting available data in delivering value-based, outcome-driven care, and shaping the future of personalised medicine and treatment.  At a broader level, predictive data analytics have the potential to revolutionise population health management.

Put simply, once you start to crunch healthcare data, the possibilities are endless but the challenges immense. The myriad of issues—unstructured qualitative and quantitative data arriving in different formats and from multiple sources using incompatible systems—need to be resolved before the data can be used to derive analytics and consequently algorithms and applications.

On the level of public health, the ability to analyse health data across entire populations will give governments and ministries of health advanced warning signs and insights into developing trends to manage population health and consequently prevention plans. However, none of this is possible without digitising healthcare, an effort that many ministries of health in our region are focusing on like Saudi Arabia’s health information systemproject, or the Electronic Medical Records project in UAE.

From digitising data to analytics, from value outcomes to bundle pay, from a fully public system to true PPP, there is no doubt that healthcare is witnessing a massive transformation and success is dependent on full partnership and collaboration between all the stakeholders:

The technology innovators—the likes of IBM, Google & Amazon—who are experts in data & analytics, and possess in-depth customer knowledge;

The medical devices & pharmaceutical companies, like Roche and GE, who have the expertise that facilitate diagnosis, therapy, and research & development;

The public and private healthcare providers—hospitals and clinics that deliver clinical care, have patient access and own the data; and

The insurers and public payers, who have full visibility on population data, disease management and have the capital needed to invest.

Healthcare will not leapfrog until these players collaborate and put patient care at the centre of their respective universe.

Maher Abouzeid is the President & CEO, Eastern Growth Markets at GE Healthcare.