On the 21st October 2022, Advance Health hosted an extremely interesting session on the future of healthcare in the UAE in Dubai Science Park. Presentations were given by Dr Nahed Abdulkhaleq Monsef, Director of Strategy, Dubai Health Authority and Dr. Omar Najim, Director of Executive Affairs and Special Projects Office, Department of Health, Abu Dhabi. Dr Ali Allesandro Ayach, Senior Director at Alvarez and Marsal, Strategy and Performance Improvement, Dubai, also joined the panel discussion which was moderated by Marwan Abdulaziz, Senior VP of Dubai Science Park.
Key topics included how digitization is becoming more prominent in the field of medicine, the roles of key players in the industry and what the future holds for innovation and growth in the UAE’s healthcare sector.
How the UAE is turning challenges into opportunities
Despite the many challenges currently facing the world, under the wise leadership of the country’s rulers, the UAE is continuing to grow and develop. The UAE welcomes people from all over the world and is seen as a safe and attractive country to work, live and invest in. The UAE was ranked first in the world for COVID-19 vaccination rates (Our World in Data, 2021) and testing rates (Statista 2020). In 2021 Bloomberg ranked Abu Dhabi in first place and Dubai 6th for COVID resilience. The UAE is a global logistics hub and played a vital role in COVID-19 vaccine supply chain solutions through the HOPE Consortium of partners. With continuing research and development, the UAE is working to be ready for new challenges and emerging diseases.
Life expectancy in the UAE is increasing but, as in other countries, so is the burden of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases, and mental health issues. Responding to changing needs and expectations of its citizens and residents, the UAE’s healthcare system is shifting its focus to holistic, personalised and preventive care. Innovative technologies are being leveraged to provide integrated, value-based care to improve clinical outcomes and health indicators.
The UAE’s growing healthcare sector
Although oil was the initial driver of economic growth in the UAE, the country has diversified its economy into many sectors, including healthcare and innovation. The UAE’s GDP is increasing, along with healthcare expenditure. Average healthcare expenditure per capita in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Countries) is forecasted to grow by 9% CAGR. A strong private sector, in collaboration with government entities, is driving growth in healthcare infrastructure, capacity and access to specialised care.
The strategy from the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi includes enabling healthier lifestyles, creating high quality care delivery models to improve outcomes and ensuring a responsive and resilient health system. The UAE healthcare system is well regulated, with mandatory health insurance coverage, provided by the government for Emirati citizens and mostly by employers for expat residents. However, some gaps still need to be addressed to achieve 100% universal health coverage. The UAE is also fast becoming a regional and global hub for medical tourism. Medical education, research and development within the country are also growing. Life-science research and innovation are facilitated by many initiatives such as Dubai Science Park, the Department of Health’s Research and Innovation Center and the Al Jalila Foundation multidisciplinary medical research centre.
Digital innovation for health
Digital innovation is the key driver of growth in the UAE’s healthcare sector. This is demonstrated by a variety of initiatives such as:
Virtual care platforms
Robotic-assisted surgery is available in many hospitals across the UAE. It enables procedures to be performed more precisely and accurately, with less complications.
3D printing and simulation technology
Unified health information exchanges
Malaffi in Abu Dhabi and Nabidh in Dubai are unifying digital medical records to increase care coordination and reduce duplication. Patients can securely access their own medical records and control permissions for access by public and private healthcare providers. There are plans to integrate the health information exchange systems within the UAE in future.
Genome sequencing and precision medicine
The Emirati Genome Programme plans to sequence the genomes of 1 million Emirati citizen volunteers. The results will provide valuable data on population health and eventually lead to the development of personal gene therapy and precision medicine. Regulation of this field is paying careful consideration to issues of ethics, consent, education, and data protection.
Future opportunities and challenges
Investing in the future
The UAE, as a logistics, manufacturing and innovation hub for the region will continue to be a magnet for talent and investment. However, there is a need for more investment, especially for home- rown investors to move into the healthcare innovation sector. There was a discussion that venture capital involves taking risks and investors need to focus on opportunities and growth over the long term.
The UAE has instituted a Health Technology Assessment process.to evaluate the value of proposed new technologies for healthcare. In order to take full advantage of new technologies in healthcare, insurance coverage is required, and it was discussed that ICT and CPT insurance codes are currently under review.
Investing in the workforce
The healthcare workforce in the UAE, and the ability to recruit, train and retain talent in the country, is crucial. Further unifying medical licensing between the different authorities in the UAE will be beneficial.
The future of healthcare will see growth in the use of artificial Intelligence, machine learning and automaton. New competencies and skills will be required, with the need to invest in AI engineers, data scientists and data governance experts. With the increasing popularity of the metaverse, virtual and augmented reality, healthcare needs to catch up. This requires investment in both technology and training healthcare professionals.
Ensuring robust regulation
Digital healthcare technologies produce large volumes of personal and sensitive data which require robust regulation to ensure biosecurity, cyber- ecurity and data protection. Policies are also required to regulate access to data for research purposes. As global health providers increasingly provide cross-border care, this also needs international regulation.
The innovative and growing healthcare sector in the UAE is well-placed to take advantage of new technologies and increasing digitization. With continued robust regulation and investment in research and development, the UAE is set to further establish itself as a hub for high quality healthcare and innovation.
Advance Health by Dubai Science Park organises regular sessions on exciting topics linked to the healthcare industry. The next meeting is planned for 25th November.