The UAE has steadily cemented its position as the destination of choice for medical tourists thanks to its wide range of state-of-the-art technology, affordable treatments and highly specialised doctors, as well as its Instagram worthy hotspots. One of the frontrunners in creating awareness about the country’s medical tourism prowess is RAK Hospital, a unit of Arabian Healthcare Group, located in the serene Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.
In an interview with Omnia Health Magazine, Dr. Raza Siddiqui, Group CEO, Arabian Healthcare Group says: “Our first step was to win the confidence of the local community, the second was to become regional and third to become international. We are currently in phase three. Our positioning is “new medical tourism destination” and at present, we are getting patients regularly from Africa and GCC countries.”
The CEO believes that higher growth in medical tourism can be achieved through word of mouth. “Today, patients have become numbers, and this will have a negative impact in times to come. Some institutions just focus on the treatment and don’t provide any follow-up. At RAK Hospital, we believe in staying connected to our patients and partners in their journey of recovery.”
Dr. Siddiqui believes that geographically, the UAE is in the right position to be a hub for medical tourism. The country has more than 45 million passengers transiting through the Dubai airport every year. Moreover, almost 3,000 patients transit through the Dubai airport to go to other destinations for treatment.
Recent trends have highlighted that patients usually travel abroad for treatment for Oncology, Cardiology, Neurosciences, Orthopaedics and Rehab programmes. For instance, he highlights that recently the hospital had four patients from Saudi Arabia who came in for joint replacement. In such procedures, post-surgical rehab is crucial, and the hospital took important steps in ensuring that the patients were mobilised, connected, and received guidance about what exercises had to be done, even after them leaving the premises. The hospital has also started getting traction from Oman for spine deformities and joint problems and from Kuwait for orthopaedics.
“We are focusing on areas which will not only make us self-sufficient as a country but will also help us in attracting patients globally,” he says. “Providing world-class treatment programmes will add value internationally, as well as in the local market, because people from the region will also get the support they need, closer to home. We are also constantly trying different ways to improve efficiencies so that the cost could be controlled.”
Dr. Raza Siddiqui
Continuum of care
Currently, RAK Hospital has several unique offerings up its sleeve. Its laparoscopic minimally invasive surgery programme is one of the best in the region. They are also well-known for their cardiac programmes and are in the process of launching new treatment procedures. Furthermore, the hospital has recently started an electrophysiology programme with India’s Fortis Escorts Hospital.
“It is not just about the technology, but about the skill-set that is required. We have surgeons who have trained at some of the most renowned centres in India. Recently, we performed a high-end colon cancer case, which is a rare surgery, and the patient is recovering well. It is very important to have that kind of commitment to quality and to the patient,” Dr. Siddiqui explains.
He stresses that providing an end-to-end solution and continuum of care is of utmost importance. This involves the referring physician referring the patient with a proper report and keeping them connected and involved. Or in cases of surgery, the physician needs to keep a track about what kind of follow-up or treatment continuation has to happen in the patient’s home country. This process is followed religiously at RAK Hospital, he says.
Innovation is key
The name of the game tomorrow, according to Dr. Siddiqui, is going to be efficiency, however, to achieve it, quality cannot be compromised. This is where automation and innovation will have a key role to play.
For instance, he highlights that the universal adoption of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) is playing an important role in cutting down the cost and time. Furthermore, today, if a histopathology sample is carried out and there is no local resource available, telepathology can provide physicians with a second opinion.
“Big data is going to play a very important role in two areas – histopathology and radiology,” says Dr. Siddiqui. “With big data, radiologists can refer to millions of other similar images and provide an instant report. In histopathology, usually, a lot of time is spent as you have to go through each image slide by slide. But now with algorithm-based diagnosis, big data is going to support big time because it is all about matching patterns.”
Focus on prevention and wellness
RAK Hospital believes in fostering a culture of wellness and carries out a series of educational programmes throughout the year in the UAE to create awareness. Some of their initiatives include the school health programme Sahi.
“Children are almost never examined from head to toe, as parents will take the little ones to the doctor only if there is a specific ailment. But, as part of the programme, we start the physical exam from the beginning. There are so many undiagnosed situations that come up. For example, scoliosis goes totally unnoticed, which can be corrected through early screening. We identify the physical and mental growth needs of the child and also customise their nutritional needs,” Dr. Siddiqui shares.
Furthermore, the hospital has tied up with schools in Ras Al Khaimah where their nutritionists visit the kitchens of the school or the caterers and encourage children on how to eat right.
They also have an initiative called corporate wellness, as part of which they screen more than 20,000 people every year. He explains: “We have a software with certain parameters. So, for instance, if our team screens 5,000 people, the software can calculate and inform us whether 20 per cent of them are diabetic patients or if 30 per cent of them are cardiac patients, such as people who are at risk of getting a heart attack, etc.
“Our counsellors give the organisation a health score and we work with them to improve their score. We have the data to support us that if a person is not well, their productivity is compromised. So, what we do is that we improve the productivity of the organisation by 20 to 30 per cent.”
He concludes: “Another initiative that we are going to launch is that of a helpline. We are going to be putting up stickers with our counsellors’ number in the hospital. In life, the root cause of many problems is that you don’t have anybody to talk to. So, we will have psychologists available for a free call and are focusing on improving the population’s mental health.”