The UAE's healthcare industry remains one of its fastest-growing sectors, evidenced by the growing number of hospitals and clinics across the country. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a momentous impact on all aspects of the industry, paving the way for increased expenditure to meet high consumer demand.
Healthcare-related expenditure in the Gulf grew from $60 billion in 2013 to $76 billion in 2019, and is expected to grow to a further $89 billion by 2022, an overall increase of nearly 50 per cent from 2013 to 2022, according to a new KPMG report that offers insight into opportunities, trends and emerging growth areas.
Dr Azad Moopen, founder chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare, said: "With the UAE's vision of a digital-first economy, we expect the healthcare sector in the UAE to see considerable expenditure in digital transformation, technology and AI- and IoT-based solutions.
This would be supported by added investments into shaping quaternary care facilities for transplants as well as academics and research. There is also opportunity to start single specialty specialised centres for attracting medical tourism to the country. Another area that has huge potential is wellness and prevention, which shall see major investments in future with focus on ageing."
Among the dynamics impacting the present and future of the UAE's healthcare sector, the KPMG report highlights the growth of private investment.
The UAE government has been the primary investor in the country's healthcare sector: In 2019, it funded approximately 69 per cent of the country's total healthcare expenditure of $16 billion. From 2018 to 2022, private-sector healthcare spending is forecast to increase at a cumulative annual growth rate of 9.5 per cent, compared to a government contribution growth rate of 4.4 per cent.
Nitin Mehrotra, partner for infrastructure, government and healthcare at KPMG, said: "While responses from local regulatory bodies to the Covid-19 pandemic were swift and thoughtfully constructed, to survive and thrive, healthcare organisations will need a well-planned approach to curtailing disruption, and its impact on national well-being and standards of care."
"The first edition of the UAE Healthcare Perspectives report identifies the dynamics that are likely to be crucial to understanding the future of the UAE's healthcare sector," he added.
The latest Medical Tourism Index Ranking places Dubai sixth and Abu Dhabi eighth in the rankings of leading global destinations for medical tourism. According to the KPMG report, inbound medical tourism in the UAE has been growing steadily, with visitors seeking treatment ranging from major surgery to rehabilitation to cosmetic corrections.
Taher Shams, managing director of Zulekha Healthcare Group, said: "We are geared to meet the demand for high-risk surgeries right here in the UAE. Digital and remote healthcare systems that help patients monitor their health will be the focus. Also, telemedicine has changed a patient's perspective of a doctor's visit. Greater demand to such remote healthcare access that suits patients well and saves time needs investments."
Richard Stolz, associate director for transaction services at KPMG, said: "Some of the key drivers for increased private investments are the demand for niche specialties, the rising emergence and support for public-private participation, and increasing demand for treatment and hospital beds in an ageing population. Further, the privatisation of hospitals and mandatory medical insurance, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, will likely encourage spending and contribute to a more integrated health system."
While the UAE's healthcare infrastructure is rapidly improving, some specialties remain underserved, such as maternity, paediatrics, elderly care, fertility, one-stop primary care centres and diabetes.
Given the increased occurrence of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes in the UAE, there is an opportunity to significantly improve the population's general well-being with enhanced, relevant primary care offerings such as neighbourhood day care centres for initial diagnosis and treatment, before medical issues become complex or life-threatening.
Gopinath S., chief strategic officer at Canadian Specialist Hospital, said: "The healthcare sector is adopting to the new normal post-Covid-19. As we are still licking our wounds, Covid-19 has exposed the inadequacies of our public and private healthcare systems and brought even the most developed countries to their knees."
"When it comes to the challenges involved in the running of private healthcare facilities post-Covid, the pandemic has exposed the gaps in the healthcare system and brought the world to its knees, spurred the healthcare policymakers to reboot and think differently, expanding the use of telehealth and the future role of medical and hospitality institutions as hubs for care," added Gopinath.
Similarly, Singaram Annamalai, CFO of Prime Healthcare Group, said: "UAE healthcare-related expenditure has shown significant growth in last couple of years and it's going to grow further in coming years mainly due to mandatory health insurance in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, increase in lifestyle diseases, medical tourism, etc. Covid-19 has pushed digitisation as priority in healthcare such as telehealth, remote monitoring, use of AI and RPA."
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