Interview: Sheikh Abdulla bin Mohammed Al Hamed

What is the private sector doing to address the shortcomings in health care delivery, and how can investment spur the growth of medical projects?

SHEIKH ABDULLA BIN MOHAMMED AL HAMED: Based on our records, the number of health care centres in Abu Dhabi grew over the period 2010-16, with the private sector representing the majority of these 2455 facilities. Private hospitals accommodated 50% of all inpatients and 72% of all outpatients. This growth constitutes locally based international medical facilities, including Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Imperial College Diabetes Centre, King’s College Hospital, ParkwayHealth and Moorfields Eye Hospital, which all emerged recently in the GCC market.

The DoH Capacity Master Plan (CMP) provides a comprehensive analysis of the capacity, supply and demand of the current system, and lays the groundwork for our next strategic actions, including securing investment. To that end, we are working with the Global Health Investment Fund to put in place optimal equity models, to explore avenues by which they can provide sustainable funding through a mix of low-interest, long-term loans, fees, equity and deferred shares, and to facilitate financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises. This can encourage providers to expand their coverage across the emirate and, by enticing potential investors to enter the health care market, bridge the gaps between supply and demand. To date, our Investment and Capacity Management Division has reached out to 80 local, regional and global investors, and used the CMP to guide them every step of the way.

To what extent are you developing programmes and facilities to address the health and wellness priorities of the domestic agenda?

SHEIKH ABDULLA: Over the years, DoH has taken great strides to address these concerns through progressive research and community awareness programmes. Most notably, the Weqaya programme, which uses population screening to detect early risk factors of cardiovascular disease, responded to the noted increase in premature deaths among those aged 30 to 70 due to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol. As part of this initiative, DoH has mandated standard procedures for all service providers to follow when carrying out screenings.

In addition, we continue to deploy educational programmes that promote healthy lifestyle habits, such as physical activity, healthy diet and reduced tobacco use. The sector is now focused on adding primary care facilities, as they have shown globally the vital role they play in reducing cases of cancer, heart disease and stroke.

How can DoH increase the use of primary care services to trim costs and expand access?

SHEIKH ABDULLA: Primary care’s extensive offerings play a crucial role in health promotion and maintenance, patient counselling, education, and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of chronic and acute illnesses. These facilities are well equipped and well positioned to address the vast majority of patient concerns, due to their availability in urban areas and their extensive offering of specialty, institutional, consultative and referral relationships. This was evident in our impact assessment, which showed that an increase of just one primary care doctor per 10,000 people can decrease outpatient visits by 5%, inpatient admissions by 5.5%, emergency room visits by 10.9% and surgeries by 7.2%.

DoH aims to drive the majority of sector activity with primary care. As we further develop our strategy and standards to elevate the role of primary care, we foresee that more patients will seek its services and more providers will shift towards this model. A charter for primary care is well under way, and with it we will propose ways to give primary care a competitive edge. This includes assigning primary care a gate-keeping role to provide referrals to secondary care facilities and using telehealth to make remote diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care available to registered patients.