Local Business

Going healthy in UAE is not an uphill task

Sanjiv Purushotham/ Value Mining/Dubai
Filed on April 9, 2018
Going healthy in UAE is not an uphill task
Men and women running on treadmills in health club


Health is the source of happiness and wealth. Which is why our personal well-being is so important to the development and growth of an economy.

According to an Alpen Capital report, the UAE healthcare market size will reach $19.5 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 12.7 per cent from 2015. The split is $12.1 billion for outpatient care and $7.5 billion for inpatient treatment. The demand for beds will be more than 13,800 by 2020, requiring an annual growth rate of 3 per cent at least.

The Mena Research Partners reports indicated that the private healthcare industry in the GCC overall will reach a level of $94 billion by 2021. Within this region, Saudi Arabia's population ensures that it has the largest share of the healthcare spend pie accounting for 47.9 per cent of the market total. The UAE comes in at second, place with 26 per cent. The rest of the region makes up the balance quarter of the spend. This split is based on a World Bank report.

At a more macro-level, Insead along with Alix Partners put together a report, The healthcare sector in the UAE. Key takeaways are that the GCC represents about 1 per cent of the global total spend of $7,682 billion on healthcare.

However, as part of the larger Middle East Africa ecosystem, it sits in the fastest growing region.
Opportunities are apparent. There are just 1.9 hospital beds per thousand people in the GCC compared to over 3 in Singapore, UK and the US and 8 in Germany. The average healthcare spend as a percentage of the total GDP is close to 2.3 per cent as compared to 7.6 per cent in the UK and over 8.1 per cent in the US. In short there is room to grow.
It's not as if the numbers in the UAE are not large. As per 2014 statistics released by Federal Statistics and Competitive Authority, there were 79 hospitals, 10,165 physicians and 16,882 nurses in the private sector. There were 36 hospitals, 6,504 physicians and 16,547 nurses in the government sector. These numbers have grown rapidly since then. Read on for the latest estimates on the phenomenal growth of healthcare since then.

The challenge
However there is an experience related challenge. For one, the over 200 nationalities that live in the UAE generate a complexity of its own which relates to language, ethnicity, lifestyle and social diversity. In addition, each insurance provider or network has a diverse set of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and alternative health providers. Care is not consistent across the spectrum. Other challenge areas include getting and setting appointments, billing and reimbursement, diagnostics and post-operative care.

The company
Healthigo is designed to digitally transform the end-to-end customer journey for healthcare seekers. Co-founder and director Joseph Debs explains that, for one, Healthigo is the biggest free-to-use public healthcare database in the UAE. The numbers supplied by the company's website indicate that there are over 180 hospitals, 16,000 plus physicians, 3,000 plus clinics & diagnostic centres, 3,500 plus pharmacies, and over 50 healthcare insurance providers. He goes on to describe why it is critical to put the healthcare seeker right in the centre.

Healthigo aims to enable patients and healthcare seekers to discover health and wellness providers around them based on personalised search criteria and smart filters. All is required is to key in the insurance provider's name, the specific plan and a menu of viable healthcare services and practitioners in the vicinity is immediately displayed. Once that is done, the intent is that the interface will empower healthcare seekers to schedule and book appointments.

In keeping with the customer-centricity model, another platform feature is an arrangement with the car-hailing service, Careem. Through this service, the healthcare seeker can arrange cost-effective transport.
On the supply side, the healthcare providers see a dashboard of the seekers' requirements and records. Healthigo's endeavour is to provide an easy to use interface. Another stated objective is to provide valuable statistics and insights in order to help providers optimise their practice. The value proposition for healthcare seekers is immediate discovery of services and providers based on the insurance plan, the ability to add on dependents, linking up to friends and volunteer groups for emergencies, health-record upload and maintenance as well as a preventive healthcare platform. For corporate employers, the platform features include onboarding of employees, choice and options for health and wellness programmes as well as visibility in to the employees well-being.

For providers, the features include scheduling and booking management, dashboard-based patient engagement, proximity features allowing connectivity to patients as well as data for patient related analytics.
Healthigo aims to deliver value to the ecosystem on day one by mapping over 70 per cent of the healthcare providers onto their platform. The team intends to launch in the consumer interface in a couple of weeks. Debs explains that the company is simultaneously onboarding healthcare providers via a subscription based model. What is significant in healthigo's business model is that the revenue is supply side driven, ensuring that the healthcare seekers get free service.

Debs and Anirudh Gupta, also co-founder and director in the company, aim to digitally transform and disrupt the traditional modus operandi of the region's healthcare and wellness institutions. Both are outsiders to the industry. As they put it, disruption always happens from outside-in. They bring complementary skills to the table.

Debs, a Lebanese-American, is a former consultant and project management executive who's worked in Germany and the UAE before starting on the Healthigo journey a year-and-a-half ago. Gupta, of Indian origin, is a technocrat and entrepreneur who brings in deep experience and knowledge. It is fitting that the UAE has facilitated this meeting of global minds. From the UAE, they intend to expand the model to the wider GCC and to the Levant market.

The writer is founding partner at BridgeDFS, a bespoke financial services advisory firm (www.bridgeto.us). Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy. He can be contacted at sanjiv@bridgeto.us.

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