16th November 2009 (Khaleej Times) DUBAI Healthcare experts have urged for national dialogue and formation of public private partnerships in the UAE to meet challenges of the growing healthcare market.
Experts at the three-day Healthcare Travel or (Medical Tourism) Congress that began on Sunday said that the local government urgently needs to address licensing, recruitment and accreditation issues in the healthcare sector so as to overcome the challenges of a market that is growing rapidly, locally and regionally despite the economic downturn.
“The government cannot endlessly invest in healthcare without participation from the private sector,” said Dr Prem Jagyasi, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ExHealth. He was addressing a session on ‘Growing Healthcare Demand in the Middle East’. “This partnership is vital to meet the increase in demand for quality healthcare in the country,” he added.
However, he said the government needs to invest in emergency healthcare and on prevention and education of chronic diseases. “For example, the government should spend Dh100-200 million on educating and preventing diabetes rather than on curing ailments resulting from the disease,” he explained.
Though nationals and expatriates seek primary care in the country, many prefer to travel abroad for specialised services. “The government also needs to develop trust and confidence in the local healthcare industry,” said Dr Jagyasi saying this was a major challenge facing the local industry.
“Up to 70 per cent of patients from the UAE prefer to travel abroad as a decision of choice and not necessity,” he said, adding that the government needs to address this issue with clear regulations.
Visa restrictions in the West following September 11 attacks and introduction of health insurance are among the reasons for the growth of the regional industry, currently growing at the rate of 15 per cent annually and estimated to increase from the current $12 billion to $60 billion in 2025, said experts.
“The GCC is a much bigger market than thought and currently healthcare is an increasing concern for governments,” said Dr Mounes Kalaawi, Chairman of Clemenceau Medicine International and Chief Executive Officer of Clemenceau Medicine Centre in Lebanon. The experts also called for formation of a regional networking platform for healthcare professionals. “To promote high standards of healthcare and overcome staff shortages, we need to network and ease travel restrictions among countries,” said Dr Kalaawi.
“This region is working towards creating a profitable medical tourism industry but we recognise that we have some way to go before this industry is mature,” said Laila Al Jassmi, Chief Executive Officer of the Clinical Support Services Sector of the Dubai Health Authority. “We need to increase the demand and supply of our healthcare sector and this can only be done by restructuring and enhancing our in-house healthcare strategy,” she said.
She also said that to boost medical tourism in the country, both UAE nationals and residents should have equal access to healthcare. “The government recognises that our patients still require the expertise from medical professionals abroad which is why we have increased the number of visiting physicians by 10 per cent per year,” she added.