The future of healthcare in Mena
Our sister publication, POLICY, talks to Skander Malcolm, president and CEO of Eastern and Asian markets at GE Healthcare, about solutions in the region
By Hossam Abougabal
What is GE healthcare doing in contributing to new innovative solutions in the region?
GE has been in the region for more than 80 years. This year, at the Arab Health exhibition, we are unveiling a brand new booth. This is the first time we have organised our equipment and software around care areas and departments, which is a world first. The reason we do it here in Arab Health is because there is a very big need/demand in the region. We know that the market is very big. It matters a great deal to companies like GE. We have been investing a lot here and we have grown our employee footprint. We are now 1,700 people in the region. For us, Arab Health and GE healthcare go very closely together. We work with a lot of different gulf countries including Iraq and Kuwait, as well as having a huge presence in Saudi. The region matters a lot to GE healthcare and we are investing heavily.
Do you feel that we have truly recovered enough from the financial crisis for us to be concentrating so much on healthcare innovation? Will it end up draining healthcare providers?
If you look at diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, we cannot not afford to be investing. The governments that I talk to, whether it is here in Dubai, or the ministries of health in KSA or Iraq, understand that the provision of good healthcare is essential to the growth of their economies and happiness of their people. Whether you are in tough economic times or not is irrelevant. GE, on a global level, has tripled investment in research and development over the past ten years. Today we invest about six per cent of our total global revenue in research and development. Globally over the last ten years alone we have invested $10bn on oncology. You have to do this, in or out of an economic crisis. If a population suffers from things like obesity, it affects productivity, which in turn affects the economy. Healthcare needs to be right at the heart of things.
How you feel about what the UAE is doing to position itself as a medical hub for the region?
Medical tourism is something that the region is pushing pretty hard, and there are obvious reasons for this. Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for example, already boast very good facilities. The reason they are pushing medical tourism is because they recognise that, in other parts of region, countries lack the infrastructure for good healthcare, and see the potential of becoming a medical hub for the region. In many of these places there are very wealthy individuals who chose to get the best treatment here in Dubai for example. So you have people like GE supporting local healthcare providers, as well as other global players, who are helping to drive this idea of medical tourism. It is again a great boost for the local economy and a great proposition for patients. It is a great idea of for the UAE, generally. In fact, competition in medical tourism is going to get harder. Turkey also has a very strong push on medical tourism; either way, it is a better outcome for the patients.
With rising medical costs and inflation, are you coining a balance for the benefit of your patients?
The costs of healthcare have gone up in an unacceptable way. When we invest in research and development, it is no good unless it helps reduce costs.
For example, we have a product called Cube Clear: if you have a cancer patient and they have to have chemotherapy, typically each round is about $100k and normally there have to be six rounds in order to see the impact. With Cube Clear, we have improved the image so much allowing us to get the result after two rounds. That is an example of producing a better product that reduces the cost.
Another thing is processes; our booth at Arab Health is set out to be department based and to illustrate how a lot of the cost in hospitals is around workflows, and when you can innovate this, then you actually reduce significant costs.
What trends are we likely to see in the coming year in the region?
What we are actually seeing now is innovation that helps create a better diagnosis. On the technology side, software is really improving and what that is doing is allowing images to be moved around in healthcare systems much more efficiently. Technology is one big trend, getting faster and stronger. Another thing is partnerships, we are seeing ministries working with the private sector trying to solve healthcare at a system level. For example, our work in Saudi Arabia shows how we have developed a healthcare skills institute. That is a straight productivity win between a kingdom and a company. Governments are realising private companies can solve a lot of their problems. We take the lessons we have learnt over 125 years and apply them in the region.