The future of Saudi healthcare

By Catherine Sturman
In 2016, Saudi Arabia launched its Saudi Vision 2030 in a bid to diversify its sources of revenue and lessen its reliance on oil. Central to the country...

In 2016, Saudi Arabia launched its Saudi Vision 2030 in a bid to diversify its sources of revenue and lessen its reliance on oil. Central to the country’s National Transformation Programme 2020 (NTP) is finding ways to provide an attractive environment for local citizens and foreign investors in order to boost employment opportunities. Additionally, the country will aim to develop strategic partnerships both locally and internationally, embracing new digital tools to further cement its position on the global stage.

The healthcare industry has become a significant area of focus for the Kingdom, with increased spending reflecting its ambition to become a geographical centre of excellence. Additionally, the decision to raise private healthcare expenditure to 35% from 25% of total expenditure by 2020 will create an opportunity for significant change.

“Vision 2030 has laid down a plan of ensuring that more public hospital and public care facilities will become corporatised to a large extent, meaning care will be provided by private institutions,” explains Executive Vice President of Fakeeh Care, Sanjay Shah. “Whether this is hospitals which become privatised or services which are provided by private institutions (or some model similar to what the United Kingdom has), it’s going to be something which the country will find itself developing over time, extracting better patient outcomes and more efficiencies.”

Educated in London and the US, Shah’s background in a number of senior finance, strategic and operational roles led him to join The London Clinic in the United Kingdom. As Chief Financial Officer, he worked to develop and manage The London Clinic’s substantial portfolio of redevelopment and expansion activities, and undertook negotiations with BUPA and AXA PPP, Middle Eastern embassies and other sponsored companies. 

Through this role, Shah also worked to deliver the UK’s first state of the art cancer centre as part of the largest single investment deal in the private sector in the United Kingdom for 30 years, costing almost $128mn and opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

Fakeeh Care

Keen to take on a new challenge, Shah joined Fakeeh Care in 2015. Set to enter the Dubai healthcare and medical education market, Fakeeh Care has become a highly regarded pioneering brand providing primary, secondary, urgent and tertiary healthcare provision and services, preventative care, and medical academia and training for local communities in Saudi Arabia.

Operating successfully for four decades and becoming the first private hospital in the western region to become JCIA accredited, Fakeeh Care runs one of the largest hospitals in the Kingdom and is presently building a number of primary care centres around Jeddah and Mecca to deliver a complete integrated and holistic care approach.

“The London Clinic had a special reputation for being a high-end, acute, tertiary care organisation, where we received patients from all over the world. But it was just one line of business. At Fakeeh Care, there are a multitude of related healthcare businesses and that completely fascinated me,” Shah reflects.

“If you take the hub-and-spoke model, we have a number of primary healthcare sites going up in Jeddah and a new outpatient hospital that will be delivered in quarter two. Additionally, we are developing primary care centres in Mecca and a smart hospital in Dubai,” he adds.

“We're very excited with our Dubai project, which will be the smartest hospital in the region and have the ability of not only utilising our software, but also having the whole arena linked in a way that enables better efficiency and many centres of excellence providing superior outcomes for patients. It's a very important project for us.”

Driving standards

Attracting a large number of expatriates, Saudi Arabia has seen an exponential population boom. From 4.1mn citizens in 1960, according to DataBank, the country now houses over 32mn, leading to an increased demand for new public health services. 

Although the NTP has responded by investing in healthcare training and development to address this growing need, Fakeeh Care has taken this a step further. Since 2003, the organisation has established a medical college, where it has received its first batch of medical students. It also houses a unique and outstanding residency programme, alongside a number of post-graduate and nursing programmes.

“Fakeeh has always housed a very academic care platform, which is quite unique in this sector,” observes Shah. “Other hospital providers do not have the ability of having their own crop of nursing staff, medical labs and graduates coming through their ranks to provide this care. I would say these are the most important aspects regarding our ability to provide patients the care that they deserve. We take the element of quality and excellence in care as really phenom, so our academic-care model is unique in the Kingdom.”

See also

Nonetheless, with such an evolving demographic, the rise of lifestyle diseases has skyrocketed, leading to the demand for, and subsequent growth of new health services. “We’ve got a very strong culture of lifestyle diseases. The population is earmarked to rise to approximately 50mn by 2050. 49% of the Kingdom's population is under the age of 29, so we're going to see a very large use of healthcare in the next 30 years or so,” explains Shah, adding that coupled with this there is “a shortage of nurses and physicians, and also a shortage of beds by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standards.

“We have 27 physicians and 52 nurses per 10,000 population. In terms of supply there's a limitation. In terms of inpatient beds, they're less than half of what OECD standards are,” he continues. “Smoking, diabetes, obesity and hypertension are therefore some of the biggest challenges we have, where 24% of Saudis are diabetic, a significantly higher figure than the world average of approximately 8%. Saudi is the 20th-largest economy in the world and it has the 19th-most obese population in the world. 28% of Saudi men and 21% of Saudi women are obese. 30% of males are smokers.

“Our outpatient hospital is particularly driven towards providing care for diabetic patients,” he adds. “This means preventative as well as taking care holistically for diabetic patients, which is also quite unique in Jeddah and it’s also not really available in the public sector.”

Quality of life

Its complimentary businesses, including the supply of medical equipment and luxury eyewear, has enabled Fakeeh Care to gain further market share and combine prescription-based eyewear with its luxury sunglasses. The organisation works to provide care to improve the quality of life and services to those outside of a hospital setting.

 “We have a wellness angle, related to our fitness facilities. There are gyms for males and females in an iconic headquarters building in Jeddah, which overlooks the shimmering Red Sea,” notes Shah. “We also have an upscale executive clinic to provide high-end bespoke healthcare.”

Nonetheless, with an acute awareness that the global number of citizens over 65 years is set to rise significantly in the next 20 years, the organisation has looked at ways to enhance its home healthcare operations. The market is expected to generate revenue of $392bn by 2021, growing at an annual rate of 9.4% between 2016 and 2021, according to Zion Market Research. “Our ability in the staffing of our nurses is about understanding our patient's needs. Honesty, accountability and integrity of care is paramount for us to be successful,” comments Shah. “Not only do we own and operate a pioneering tertiary care hospital, home healthcare is an expanding part of our portfolio. We expect this to get greater traction in this region.”

Digital transformation

Housing an impressive portfolio of services, Fakeeh Care’s operations are firmly underpinned by new digital tools, which have enabled medical staff to deliver care which is not only compassionate and patient centered, but grounded in disruptive technologies.

“I'm a firm believer that you need some disruptors to your model to kickstart some thinking. It’s very easy to become complacent,” explains Shah. “Things are very different now, you can use telemedicine, tele-reporting, tele-diagnostics. We see opportunities in tele-health, tele-radiology and also tele-oncology. I welcome new disruptors if they have something positive to provide to the sector.

“Whilst a number of other industries have embraced the digital age, healthcare seems to be lagging behind across many geographies,” he continues. “The difficulty, I suspect, is that because healthcare provision has tended to be more publicly based, there tends to be a reluctance to engineer acceptance of greater digitalisation and greater technology use.”

However, through the use of decision-making software Yasasii, nurses, doctors and pharmacists at Fakeeh Care are fully supported through driving quality, patient safety and positive patient outcomes, while also building professional skills. “It's a unique software which encompasses elementary decision-making support for physicians to make sure that they don't make an error in their diagnosis, as well as ensuring the correct medication is provided. It's a very powerful tool,” explains Shah. “In the future, we would like to see it connect with external providers. For example, where we see our patient in a primary-care centre making a booking, using the same software, it will enable the patient journey to be much smoother and stress-free. The software offers a unified central record with one dashboard for the physician to make sure that the appropriate level of care is provided for.”

In the long term, where does Shah believe Fakeeh Care is headed in such an evolving space? “Our targets this year include making sure our main IT platform is implemented in all our new sites. We'll commence with our primary-care centres and our outpatient hospitals and then the Dubai facility,” he says. “This is my main focus. We then want to develop this and provide this capability to other hospital groups who want to use it, either for offshoring or to support the development of their own electronic medical record and hospital information systems. With Yasasii, we would then have the ability to provide this superior service throughout the whole Kingdom of Arabia,” he concludes.


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