COVID-19 has reshaped the narrative about healthcare safety and has shifted the responsibilities of future healthcare leaders. This year of crisis has put even greater emphasis on leadership as patients, clinicians, and staff look for direction in the face of uncertainty and stress.
Omnia Health Magazine recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr Azad Moopen, the visionary Founder, Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare, to discuss the complex environments being faced by hospital leaders today and some of the strategies that can be used to chart a course ahead.
Dr Moopen needs no introduction, and his name is synonymous with healthcare in the UAE. He started a single doctor clinic in Dubai in 1987. Today, under his leadership, Aster DM Healthcare has grown into a global healthcare conglomerate with hundreds of facilities spread across several countries. His mission is to provide quality healthcare at affordable costs and his efforts have played a significant role in shaping the healthcare delivery model of the region.
How has your role as a healthcare leader changed, given the need to operate in the pandemic?
COVID-19 has been one of the most challenging crises in the history of our lifetime. Being at the centre of this pandemic as a healthcare player, we bore the brunt of the attack. One of the first things we did was as leaders was to take care of our people. Protecting the patient is our primary duty, but we have to take care of ourselves first so that we are able to take care of others.
The second most important thing was to see how we could remain sustainable. As leaders, we didn't want to run into a situation where we didn't have the supplies and resources to run day-to-day operations. We also had to increase the logistical capability to have these contracts, get the supplies on time, and be well-stocked. In addition, due to the pandemic, patients were not coming in and were asked to stop elective procedures. So, there were a lot of important issues that we had to tackle head-on.
Moreover, there was disruption as some frontline workers had to battle the disease themselves. We had to ensure that we had enough resources in the pipeline to deal with any such setbacks. The third factor was the requirement of funding for supporting these initiatives. So, we paused many of our upcoming projects to have as many financial resources available to us as possible.
We also strengthened our digital capacity during this period. Many of us, including me, have been working from home and connecting with people. So, there was the question of how we were communicating with our people. While our frontline soldiers were working in the hospitals, we worked behind the scenes and enhanced our digital channels. We strengthened our connectivity and security to ensure things can move smoothly. Since people were not allowed to go out or come into offices, digital transformation stepped in and allowed us to connect with our staff virtually and give them confidence. What happened is very surprising. The last year saw 10 times more digitalisation than what was before COVID. That's one of the significant benefits, which is going to stay.
What is the long-term outlook for the healthcare sector in the Middle East? What are going to be some of the major sector drivers?
I feel that the long-term outlook for the healthcare sector in the Middle East is very bright, especially in some countries where there is a significant requirement for the demand-supply gap to be met. For example, a country like Saudi Arabia has a vast population and a demand-supply gap at various levels which offers a significant opportunity for healthcare facilities expansion.
I see UAE becoming a destination for Medical Value Travel for the Middle East in the next 10 years for tertiary and Quarternary medical care as well as for wellness-related treatments. People from other countries in the Middle East will also start coming to the UAE, especially Dubai, for treatment as it is well connected with good infrastructure, hotels, etc. Also, language is an advantage as most people in the Middle East speak Arabic. So medical value travel is going to be one of the major growth areas in the future.
Furthermore, digital transformation will change how healthcare is delivered by taking healthcare more towards people's homes rather than being done in the clinics or even in hospitals. Healthcare has been imprisoned in the brick and mortar of hospitals for eons and have to move to the homes of the people who require it like what happened in most other domains. Hospitals and clinics will, of course, be there, but many people would prefer to consult a doctor, get a prescription for mild illnesses or consult for chronic disease management from the comfort of their homes. So that's how the world is going to change, and we have to be at the forefront of that.
Dr Azad Moopen
What are some of the challenges the region faces in developing its healthcare infrastructure?
One of the biggest challenges in the Middle East, especially in the UAE, is the availability of trained manpower. Getting good people is always a challenge. However, initiatives such as giving citizenship or long-term via to highly qualified people will make Dubai an attractive destination to settle down for professionals Once you have patients coming from other Middle Eastern countries to Dubai added on to the stability of professionals settling down in Dubai for the long haul, more talent will come into the country. This challenge is to be addressed in the long term by setting up teaching and research oriented medical institutions.
Technology, of course, is a challenge, but that will be met. For example, the future will be based on technologies such as 5G and robotic surgery.
What needs to be done to make the system more patient-centred?
Our whole focus should be on how the patient feels, not how we feel or how the business does. It's essential to improve service levels. The doctor is only a minor part of that, they, of course, have to treat well, but they will only be with the patient for a few minutes. The service levels of healthcare should match the levels set by the hospitality industry. Hospitals should be a hotel with attached medical treatment. The ambience should make a patient feel comfortable. It is also essential to look at patient feedback and observe how doctors and other staff manage their expectations. At Aster, our tagline is "We’ll treat you well". When we say that, we have to take it to heart and see that this is being practised.
If you could go back to the start of your career and give yourself advice, what would that be?
My advice would be it is "99 per cent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration"! When people see success, they think that maybe it's good luck, but it's not like that. It involves years of hard toil. I remember working for 14-18 hours every day while I was a medical doctor. After becoming a businessman, too, I continue to work long hours. It's an iceberg phenomenon. You don't see the lower part, which is a lot of struggles, frustrations and failures. You see the tip, which is the shining success only
I want to add that people who have been successful should give a part of it back to people who need it . The best exercise for the heart, I think, is to bend and lift somebody who is in need.
This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.