To Future-Proof Healthcare, Collaboration Between The Public And Private Sectors Is Key

A recent Entrepreneur Middle East Live webinar held in cooperation with the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention looked into how healthcare delivery has been reimagined post the COVID-19 crisis.

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"Digital healthcare has become a necessity, instead of a luxury,” said Fodhil Benturquia, founder and CEO of Okadoc, the UAE’s first instant online appointment booking platform, summing up the main conclusions of the latest Entrepreneur Middle East Live webinar staged in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention.

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Entitled "Reimagining Healthcare Delivery After The COVID-19 Crisis,” the virtual discussion looked into the transformation of consumer habits and care delivery in the UAE’s healthcare industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. "The good thing that came out of this pandemic was that Dubai, as a city, worked as one team,” noted Dr. Manal Taryam, CEO of the Primary Healthcare (PHC) Sector at Dubai Health Authority. “We all worked under one leadership that managed the transfer of patients based on their health condition and not on their insurance, and we had a great harmony among the private and the public sector, and all other stakeholders.”

According to Dr. Taryam, Dubai Health Authority's in-house system, which included the Doctor For Every Citizen platform providing round-the-clock telemedicine consultation, the Dawa’ee pre-scheduled pharmaceutical delivery network for registered patients, and government-wide paperless strategies, ensured that the quality of patient care was not compromised throughout the pandemic. She also noted that the COVID-19 crisis resulted in the enlargement of the scope of services offered by DHA as the primary healthcare provider for the Emirate of Dubai to include community-based outreach programs, COVID-19 testing and assessment programs, screenings, and later on, the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. "Just before the lockdown, we launched our telemedicine platform Doctor For Every Citizen, and it picked up very rapidly,” Dr. Taryam said. "It is one of the success stories that we are very proud of showcasing internationally, because not only was the UAE healthcare sector willing to move to telemedicine, but also our patients and our clients. We still have at least 300-350 consultations on a daily basis on our telemedicine platform.”

Source: Entrepreneur ME

Benturquia concurred that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth. "COVID-19 was a pivotal moment for us, because it accelerated the launch of telehealth, and not only from a technical perspective, but because the need in the market helped us to accelerate the adoption among healthcare providers,” he said. “I think that we gained five years in the adoption of telehealth.” Benturquia added that the pandemic also brought all the industry stakeholders to work together on the future of healthcare, giving everyone a new roadmap for the next few years. "In the UAE, what worked very well in terms of collaboration with the private sector was the openness of the public sector to discuss different elements with us, and work with us on adapting regulations to new ways of delivering healthcare,” he said. “So, we, as the private sector, haven’t been blocked with regards to any of our innovations, but we have found real partners in the public sector.”

Related: Not Just An Emergency Fix: Telemedicine Is Poised For Growth In The GCC

Dr. Taryam also noted how healthcare providers in the UAE, which included institutions from the federal government, local government, and the private sector "complemented each other’s services, rather than trying to win over each other's clients/patients” over the couse of the COVID-19 crisis. She added, "Teams would sit in regular meetings on a daily basis, and later on a weekly basis, to manage a 24/7 command centre for the delivery of services and transport of patients, and the entire healthcare system of the UAE worked together as one unit. Everybody knew their role, including the patients, and everybody knew what to expect.” Dr. Taryam also pointed out that DHA’s participation in the Dubai 10X initiative launched by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 2017 allowed it to embrace disruptive innovation as a preventive tool for any future crisis.

“DHA chose an AI-based model to predict the chances of future health emergencies, and to put in place a scenario of what every stakeholder’s role should be like,” she said. "It’s a platform where we get the data from different sources, including well established organizations and startups, and from all sectors, in order to calculate the risk of any emergencies happening in or affecting the UAE. Preparing a predictive scenario of what we should do if anything happens will hopefully help us to prevent future emergencies or at least manage them even better.”

Ahmed Osman, Associate Partner, McKinsey MENA, added that the UAE was among the first countries in the world to start asking about the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, and how to make sure that the country bounces back quickly. "The pandemic is obviously a humanitarian crisis that has created unprecedented challenges across the globe, urging everyone to mobilize quickly, and to figure out the costs later,” Osman explained. "The way in which different countries responded and the speed of their response depended on the circumstances on every country; therefore, no response was wrong. The question that has now evolved is what will remain out of the shift that has happened, and there is going to be a period when we will have to figure out how to pay for the costs that have been incurred.” According to Osman, the UAE is a good example of a resilient society, since its government operated well in a remote working scenario, and it was able to quickly control the virus and reimagine how healthcare could be delivered.

Looking forward to the future, Ahmed advises stakeholders to be cautious when it comes to celebrating the UAE’s wins from a healthcare perspective. "The overarching advice would be caution, because at many points throughout the pandemic, we celebrated different countries, and then they would very quickly go from being an early success story to becoming an opposite to that,” he said. "Another learning is that for the next crisis, the world needs to make sure that we catch it from day one, because for this one, there was a lag period. It took us a lot of time to go from descriptive data to prescriptive data, and that period has to be shortened significantly in case of the next pandemic.”

Osman also emphasized the importance of leveraging the private sector for the world becoming pandemic-proof. "It is very clear that managing a pandemic requires the public sector and the private sector to collaborate effectively, and this partnership will be the core of the world's handling any future pandemic well,” he concluded. "The real takeaway is that this public-private cooperation should not just be reactive but proactive, and sustained over time, so unlocking the private sector will be crucial for mitigating the risk of future pandemics."

Related: Collaboration Is Redefining The Future Of Healthcare

Tamara Pupic

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Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.