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Saudi Arabia navigates new frontiers in healthcare

Article-Saudi Arabia navigates new frontiers in healthcare

women's health
From value-based care to chronic disease management, Saudi Arabia is working towards establishing a sophisticated healthcare system.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands at the threshold of a healthcare renaissance, with a profound opportunity for growth, innovation, and excellence. Over the next five to seven years, there are tremendous prospects for healthcare development in the country, according to Reenita Das, Senior Vice President at Frost & Sullivan.  

In an interview with Omnia Health, she highlighted that while the rest of the world is moving digital healthcare technologies into the home, Saudi Arabia is working towards establishing a sophisticated healthcare system and can leapfrog by many years to build systems which are “made-to-order” for the country.  

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For instance, Saudi Arabia is investing resources heavily in general medicine, endocrinology, plastic surgery, and neurology. However, Das highlighted that by 2030, there will be an oversupply in these areas. “Currently, areas such as psychiatric, renal medicine, gastroenterology, immunology and infection, rheumatology, respiratory medicine, urology, and orthopaedics are undersupplied. These are where the growth opportunities exist. So, companies should consider these areas as investment avenues,” she explained. 


Figure 1: Gaps in Healthcare by 2030, Source: Frost & Sullivan 

Other areas where Saudi Arabia needs to focus its efforts are in developing robust public-private partnerships (PPPs) and manufacturing. Das shared that, at the moment, private investment in healthcare in the country is less than 20 per cent. It needs to go up to 50 per cent, be it in Greenfield clinics, managed services, healthcare education or virtual care platforms. 

“The industry needs PPPs as these partnerships leverage the strengths of both sectors to enhance service delivery, drive investments, and expand healthcare accessibility,” she added. “Regarding manufacturing, pharmaceutical companies in Saudi Arabia should focus on biosimilars. Pharma companies focused on biosimilars will have the highest growth by 2030.”  


Source: Frost & Sullivan 


Capitalising on opportunities 

Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 is a comprehensive blueprint for the nation's future and places healthcare at the forefront of its priorities. The government's commitment to diversifying the economy and enhancing the quality of life for its citizens includes extensive investments in healthcare infrastructure, services, and technologies. Below, Das highlighted several healthcare opportunities ripe for substantial advancements. 

Community-based care: There will be a significant focus on moving care to the community and building clusters towards integrated care. The country should look at offering facilities such as rehabilitation, dental or renal care near the home. The investment should also be focused on setting up the digital front door of hospitals, the concept of anytime, anywhere care, electronic medical records to ensure healthcare transparency and building electronic digital pharmacies to drive healthcare consumerisation.  

Decentralisation: Das believes that the bed size of hospitals will go down in the future and become leaner. There will be an increase in day surgeries. For instance, OBGYN procedures, maternal and childcare, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease care need to be separated from the hospital so that the facility becomes the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). “Decentralisation is an important trend that's happening. We don't need so many hospitals; what we need is building community-based care, which is accessible for people to go to anytime,” she added. 

Mental health care: Saudi Arabia will look towards building an entire system for mental health, and the country has already put it into its plan. The government should focus on understanding the different areas of mental health and build systems, whether it's long-term care systems, addiction and rehabilitation systems, care at home, family counselling or virtual counselling. All of these need to come together to provide holistic care. 

Value-based care: The country should also build efficiency in its hospitals, not only in terms of reducing cost but also in enhancing patient outcomes. There needs to be a system in place to measure the outcomes. Those results should then be tied to the clinician. Accountability needs to be built into care, and the only way to achieve it is through data. 

Wellness and preventative care: Saudi Arabia is concentrating more on investing in diagnostics and screening. It is creating awareness around prevention to offer more personalised, predictive, and preventative care. Many private hospitals and clinics are also stepping up their wellness programmes. 

Focus on chronic disease management 

Saudi Arabia reportedly has a higher number of people suffering from obesity and diabetes. In 2022, the diabetes population in Saudi Arabia was four million, while the pre–diabetes population stood at three million. Between 2021 and 2030, the rate of diabetics in the country will reportedly see 1.7x growth. “The only way to stop the pre-diabetes population from getting into diabetes is screening, education, and running community-based programmes,” Das added. 

According to her, the country needs to create systems and programmes to provide education and awareness of obesity. This starts with creating awareness in schools by ensuring that food is labelled correctly. Also, it should be mandated that anyone who visits a doctor should get their body mass index (BMI), weight and blood pressure checked. If they are over a certain point, they need to have a consultation with a nutritionist or an educator, which should also be an insurance requirement. 

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Das said: “The whole aspect of chronic disease management needs to be removed from the hospital. It needs to be moved into a community or clinic-based system with an online-offline (O2O) model. More patient engagement programmes need to be created, where patients are not just given glucometers but also told how to use them and monitor their vitals. There needs to be a closed-loop system, integrated either by an app or a virtual care system, and a nursing care centre or call centre that can follow up with the patient and understand them better holistically by asking about how much they are sleeping, etc. At the end of the day, it's a family disease; it's not a person's disease. We look at the person in silos, but we don't look at how difficult it may be for them to get access to healthy food or transportation to get their blood tests done.” 

Another suggestion Das gave was to build a subscription model around HbA1c tests to incentivise people to get monthly tests. Some KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) should then be tied to the diabetes clinic, which must maintain benchmarks and share best practices. 

Spotlight on women’s health 

At the Global Health Exhibition, Das will discuss ‘Growth opportunities in women's health.’ She shared that women’s health topics are often relegated to issues around menstruation, infertility, and pregnancy, but her discussion will focus on areas not usually highlighted.  

“I will be speaking about cardiovascular disease, obesity, endometriosis, and mental health in women’s health because these are areas where little research is done. Women get treated with drugs they are not meant to have, which can cause adverse side effects. There are not enough clinical trials done where women are participating. And yet, almost one in three women over 65 years has cardiovascular disease in the region. I want to bring up these points, which even I don't have answers for. But I want people to be aware that more inclusion of women needs to happen in these areas,” she concluded. 

This article appears in the latest issue of the Omnia Health Magazine, read more here
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