Interview: Dr Haitham Alfalah
Why is health care a financially profitable opportunity for the private sector in Saudi Arabia?
DR HAITHAM ALFALAH: Health care is going through phenomenal changes globally. The effect of ageing populations, technological development, and advances in both diagnostic and therapeutic care demand substantial investment. In Saudi Arabia, health care costs are expected to rise over the coming years, driven by an increased prevalence of non-communicable diseases.
The government is supportive of the health sector, citizens’ well-being and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. In this context, provision models are evolving and there are publicly owned hospitals at different stages of negotiation to move to private management. Service level agreements are increasingly preferred by hospitals over direct investment in capital equipment. A public-private partnership (PPP) model can more easily be adopted for areas such as radiology, laboratory work, long-term care and non-core services like IT. Furthermore, PPPs will soon be extended to other non-core competency services, like transport and supply chains.
What are the main health care needs currently being prioritised by the sector?
ALFALAH: There are a number of domains that we have prioritised. Risk management in the outbreak of infectious disease is an international priority. We have had recurrent local incidents that carried a high health risk, this requires major work on control measures. Some 17% of the Kingdom’s population are diabetic and approximately one-third are obese, which can lead to other medical problems, such as cardiac and kidney diseases. Therefore, the need to create long-term health care facilities is rising rapidly, and specialised centres for the treatment of these diseases are receiving strong support. In this respect, our focus is on addressing existing conditions, while also fostering better prevention practices. In addition, one of the Kingdom’s challenges is its scattered population. We need to employ innovative ways to improve access to health care in these communities. Finally, the Kingdom needs increased production of health care supplies such as medications, consumables, and products for diagnostic and therapeutic hospital equipment.
In what ways can the target ratio of 150 nurses and health care staff per 100,000 people be achieved?
ALFALAH: One of the strategic objectives in the National Transformation Programme (NTP) is to increase the attractiveness of health care professions as a career choice, and this requires a holistic approach. The gap is actually increasing as more facilities open and demand for specialised health care professionals rises. While the Kingdom used to depend on expatriate workers, we are now investing heavily in our educational capacity, with more than 30 medical colleges and nursing schools, both public and private.
How will achieving a unified digital medical record coverage rate of 70% improve efficiency?
ALFALAH: The health information system is currently held in data silos across different medical institutions. We need an integration engine to standardise systems and streamline processes and pathways. The NTP has a mandate to create a commonly shared digital medical record protocol that facilitates faster, more accurate and effective use of medical capacity, and enhances mobility and efficient utilisation of resources.
Making patients’ information available digitally will make the transition across medical facilities easier and more secure. Those providing treatment will be able to access comprehensive and integrated patient information, including diagnostic and clinical test results through mobile applications, with clear benefits to medical decision making. As the sector moves towards an insurance-driven model, digitising medical records will be crucial. Finally, this record will provide a platform for implementing greater use of artificial intelligence.
You have reached the limit of premium articles you can view for free.
Choose from the options below to purchase print or digital editions of our Reports. You can also purchase a website subscription giving you unlimited access to all of our Reports online for 12 months.
If you have already purchased this Report or have a website subscription, please login to continue.