Cleveland hospital: medical partners bring rude health

The National at 10: Mubadala’s links across the world to institutions such as Cleveland Clinic Ohio have allowed Emiratis to stay at home for treatment, with innovation and medical tourism just some of the side benefits

A handout photo of the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi illuminated with colours of the French flag in solidarity with the victims of the attack in Nice. (Courtesy: General Secretariat of Executive Council) *** Local Caption ***  CCAD_Ex-20.jpg

Few single contributions in the evolution to the UAE's healthcare system over the past decade can match the arrival of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, with its glowing blue addition to the Abu Dhabi night skyline a fair symbol of the brilliance of knowledge and talent it houses.

Just a few years ago, before the opening of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, tens of thousands of Emiratis suffering from heart disease or rare disorders had no choice but to travel for treatment, spending months abroad.

No one would then have imagined that they could receive that care at home, and that the UAE could provide medical services not available at the revered hospitals of Europe. And it all happened so quickly.

“If you stand back and look at the UAE and Abu Dhabi, it is really the model society,” said Dr Rakesh Suri, chief executive of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. “I think what is phenomenal for the people of this emirate and this nation is that this has happened without many people noticing it.

“Health care didn’t exist at this level. Three years ago people couldn’t imagine not calling an airline when they were diagnosed and today they can’t imagine leaving Abu Dhabi when they are diagnosed with a life-altering condition, so that’s phenomenal.

The Rulers realised that to quickly bring the healthcare system to world-best quality and realise the ambitions spelt out in future visions, international partnerships and heavy investment would be required.


Read more of our 10-year anniversary coverage here:

SPECIAL REPORT: Chronicling 10 years of change in the UAE


There is no competing with institutions that have developed research, technology and expertise over collective centuries, and their presence would cut the costs of sending Emiratis for treatment abroad and put Abu Dhabi on the map as a medical tourism destination.

Barely a month goes by where a new first is not announced for surgery and treatments, with Mubadala’s partnerships giving the health system instant access to the brightest minds and most innovative medical teams around the world.

Today Clevelend Clinic Abu Dhabi has five centres of excellence and a 364-bed capacity that can be expanded to 490, five clinical floors, three diagnostic and treatment levels and 13 floors of critical and acute inpatient wards.

“When we came to Abu Dhabi we sought to deliver the basics – great heart surgery, great brain surgery, great respiratory and critical care, great eye procedures and then great digestive care,” Dr Suri said.

“We sought to bring our highlights of expertise from Cleveland Clinic Ohio to here. What happened only by accident is that we not only met those goals but we exceeded them very quickly – more quickly than any of us would have ever imagined.”

He said the metrics for those achievements were the number of patients treated and the complexity of their ailments.

“We didn’t come here and say that we would take the sickest of the sick and that they would be sicker than at Cleveland Ohio,” Dr Suri said. “We thought that maybe they would be a little less sick and we would compare results to the other hospitals in the region.

“But they are far beyond that, so we treating the most complex patients this country has ever seen almost by accident, and so the type of people coming in began to be more complex and the services that they need began to be more complex.”

Because of that complexity, the best surgeons from around the world were brought in along with the latest technology.

“We bought in the best robotic surgeons from around the world to offer standard operations through smaller cuts, allowing people to recover faster and get home faster,” said Dr Suri, who is also the hospital’s chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery.

“That sort of expertise doesn’t exist in Europe. It doesn’t exist in by far the majority of centres in the US and it began here almost by accident. We had a compelling project, a great vision and people came.

“There are many academic centres in the US that don’t offer the whole suite of services we offer. They may offer one or two of these but let’s take the Massachusetts General Hospital for example. They don’t do robotic heart surgery.

“We have more robotic expertise here than anywhere else in the world, give or take a few centres. We had the highest number of robotic heart surgeries done here than anywhere else on the planet.

“We have world leaders and academic professors who teach and are thought leaders and they advance the science, so if you think of the Bill Gates of computers, we have the Bill Gates of robotic surgery right here in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

“Now we are getting new procedures that have never been done before in the US for very ill Emirati patients who cannot have surgery because they are so sick they cannot have medicine, because they are failing and would otherwise be dying.

“We are for the first time helping to fix their valves through a puncture in the groin, which has never been done. We are offering the most innovative procedures anywhere on the planet and we are advancing the science.

“This progress happened without us ever trying to do it. It was just because you have the right people, the right framework, the right environment and the right support from the regulators and the leaders of this nation.”

But while the hospital is a world leader in critical care and transplants, there still seems to be a lack of trust.

“People still have this memory of a healthcare system three years ago that delivers sporadic results and the need to call an international brand to receive world-class care,” Dr Suri said.

“But now we deliver on our promise and for the first time in the history of the UAE, we are able to routinely deliver world-class care here at home, and most importantly training for the next generation of healthcare leaders who will continue to deliver this.

“Our first year of operation was in 2016 and not all of our services were open yet, but what I can tell you is that any patient with the most rare condition that requires a multi-disciplinary team, we could treat right here in Abu Dhabi. It is important that people know that.

“If a patient will travel to one of the main academic medical campus such as the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General – we offer those same suites of services right here in Abu Dhabi.

“And I am not sure how to best convey that to people so that they are aware of the tremendous offerings that have been bestowed on them by the leadership and the government.”