13 Mar 2018

Of the many transformational stories in the UAE, that of healthcare is one of the more impressive, with progress that combines ambition and urgency in a way that should inspire leaders in government and business the world over.

From an investment perspective, it’s not hard to see opportunities from almost every angle. Demand-side drivers include urbanisation, population growth and the rise of non-communicable diseases, underpinned by consumer behaviour: that personal healthcare spending is an inelastic part of individual spending patterns.

Government ambitions to create a hub for world-class healthcare treatment not only serve to keep its citizens at home when seeking medical treatment, but also as a net contributor to GDP. Revenue generated from international patients seeking treatment in the Emirates was worth more than Dh1 billion in 2016.

Since formalising its approach to medical tourism in 2014, the UAE has become the world’s fastest growing medical tourism hub and is now considered among the world’s top 15 destinations by patient numbers with notable specialisms in orthopaedics, fertility, ophthalmology, cosmetics and dermatology. Revenues from medical tourism are predicted to double, to $700 million, by 2020. Delivering on that number will require the government and private healthcare companies working together to create capacity and capability to serve patient numbers scale.

The integration of digital technologies is key to transformative growth in the GCC healthcare sector that will benefit patients, operators, investors and suppliers. The introduction of healthcare information systems, such as automated electronic medical records and analytics to track and improve the quality of treatment, have improved things for healthcare suppliers, physicians and patients through more convenience and efficiency in data handling, lower costs, increased speed and reduced error.

The ‘revenue effect’ of such systems is now being felt increasingly by investors. For example, in its 2016 annual report, Mubadala (not a Hanover client) reported that high performance aided by technology investment boosted its healthcare revenues by nearly 30% – to Dh1.4bn – helping to grow the investment firm’s profits.

If digital information structures provide a new nervous system for UAE healthcare, investments in the latest digital and medical technologies are the muscles that will power patient outcomes and revenue growth in the longer term. The scale and range of investments currently being made across a host of areas, from narrow band imaging to medical robotics, will enable healthcare providers in the UAE to compete globally for  specialist medical procedures among international patients in the future.