What new initiatives is Medcare Hospital involved in?

ATARI: Medcare Hospital is a part of Dr. Moopen’s group, DM Group, which was established about 25 years ago in Dubai with one clinic and grew to be one of the biggest health care providers in the GCC. We have almost 75 pharmacies, 45 clinics and we have hospitals UAE, Oman, most of the GCC countries and India. We are supported by three verticals: pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals. In additional to Medcare Hospital, we also own Aster Clinics and Pharmacies. A lot of people don’t know that we are in the same group, since we cater to different clients. Medcare Hospital was established in 2007 and since then, we have grown to be one of the premier hospitals in Dubai. We have also opened a few satellite clinics: two satellite clinics in Mirdif as well as Jumeirah. We will be opening a new clinic in JBR and new hospital in 2012.

To what extent was healthcare neglected during the economic boom here in the UAE? To what extent does the lag that neglect created in the sector create more opportunity in healthcare today?

ATARI: During the boom years, which were 2004-2007, healthcare was completely neglected. Most of the investors looked at real estate as quick cash. Why would you want to invest in a hospital that would take 2-3 years to break even and deal with all of the hassle that comes with the healthcare services when you can turn your money around in a year in the real estate business? That’s the main reason why there was no focus on the healthcare system in the UAE in general. In the later stage, the government, especially here in Dubai, made a lot of changes and plans to improve healthcare. If this happened a couple more years before the crisis, I think there would’ve been huge benefits for the healthcare because the plans were in the right direction. They were planning new hospitals and universities and a lot of the plans were very promising. Unfortunately, the crisis happened and it never developed to expectations. More people got into the healthcare system after the crisis than there were before because people realized that this was the only thing that was solid before and after the crisis, the financial crisis. And it will always be solid. During 2008 and 2009, people really stopped their projects and the development slowed down while we increased facilities because the healthcare sector remained unaffected. Many players have joined this sector and there are many plans for hospitals and clinics at this stage.

Over the next 20 years, treatment demand in the GCC will rise by 240 per cent and the total number of hospital beds will need to more than double to 162,000 to meet the needs of an ailing populace, according to consulting firm McKinsey and Company. Is the UAE currently on track to meet these growing demands?

ATARI:  If we want to talk just about the beds then we are not looking at the bigger picture. We need to talk about the quality of the beds. There are about 4 or 5 new hospitals coming into the market in Dubai and Sharjah is building a medical city. Abu Dhabi also has huge plans for hospitals. I think that is more than enough. We need to concentrate on the quality and the education of the patients and the public. We need to educate the public. Everybody is opening general hospitals, and this is not what we need. Until today, in the private sector if you need oncology for example, you will not find the proper treatment. The government has it, but the private sector has not yet reached that standard. The expats in Dubai are a healthy population. We are healthy because if someone has a chronic illness, they would prefer to be home instead of the UAE because of the family surrounding. We really need specialized beds where special treatment can be given. But the problem for that is to recruit the right people for that. We’re facing the problem of getting sub-specialty doctors who will come from the US or the UK. They don’t want to come here because they don’t find challenge in their skills. Some of them have told me that they are getting deskilled because of the nature of the population in Dubai. We are not facing the issues we would fact in a bigger population. If you go to India, or the US, or the UK, you will face different issues. So, they will come for one or two years and then they are not satisfied with the medical treatment they are giving because they are not challenged. So they prefer to go back and to come on a visiting basis. We need to concentrate on the skills of the doctors and to recruit good doctors to provide everything here in Dubai. Beds are not the issue here; it’s what the beds are and what we are serving.

The Gulf is battling the highest incidence per capita of lifestyle diseases in the world. One in four people in the UAE have diabetes. What emphasis is placed on preventative medicine in the UAE today?

ATARI:  One of the issues with preventative is that you need a good, realistic set of statistics. Right now this is being done by outside agencies. In other countries, the agencies who monitor these are the big universities who have medical schools where they do research. There are reports that say one out of four has diabetes: what is the cause of that? We need to know why it is happening and why only here. That will not be done in an agency that comes here once or twice a year. I think the government is doing a good job at giving good information, but because medical education in this country is not up to par, we do not have solid data to work with on this. In the meantime, we will work with what we have at this stage. We have to change our lifestyles. Right now we are all sitting under A/C and driving cars, nobody is really walking. We have to change what we consume and our physical activities. The only driver for change right now is the government hospitals because of the budget. The private sector does minimal.  We do some programs for Diabetes Day and we get involved with some orientation with the public. With breast awareness, we do it that day, but breast cancer is every day. The illness doesn’t stop. So it has to be a continuous education, not only one day. The government tries its best but we need cooperation between the private sector and the public to take it forward. Another silent partner, who has a big impact but is not becoming part of the solution, is the insurance companies. We have to educate the people to do proper screening so that if you are a diabetic, we can catch it early and try to treat it. The insurance companies should be most concerned and should have the most interest in treating or preventing this because they are the ones paying for the treatment. So far, they are the silent partner and I think they should be involved and team up with the government sector and the private sector to treat and hopefully reduce this, whether you want to look at it financially or medically.

How would you describe the competition between private healthcare providers in the UAE today?

ATARI: We need to complement each other, not compete with each other. There is no competition in this business. None of these hospitals has the perfect setup where one can receive A to Z treatment. Each hospital has something it does well. We have to work as a team to benefit the hospitals because none of us is a complete package. The government has the complete package, the private sector does not. We are all going in the right direction but we don’t have a one stop hospital. We need to help each other. If I know that a patient can get the treatment at a certain hospital, then I should try to get the patient the best treatment. The private and government sectors also need to be one team. Right now, we don’t have enough beds, but in the 3-4 years we will have more specialty beds. But in the meantime, the movement of patients among the private sector and to the government sector is a very difficult situation and the patient is suffering in this case. We have to resolve this and we have to become stronger so the private sector and the government play together as one team.

What role should the private sector play in healthcare in the UAE?

ATARI: The private sector also needs to be a part of the community. The private sector has become more business driven. The quality is there but we have more responsibility to the public to educate, to be involved, and to volunteer. The volunteering concept is still not there. We need to look into our staffing. The private sector has issues with the quality of the staffing. It’s not about the salaries or the packages we are giving, it is about the quality that we are recruiting. This process is very important. To bring people to this region, it is not about the package, a lot of people want to advance in their careers. If I come here, and I just work, without ever advancing, I will either kill my career or I will have to leave. And this is what is happening. The good, skilled, staff, they either go back to where they came from or to different countries to advance their education. We need to develop education centers. There are few education centers in the private sector. The government is doing a really good job; the private sector, we are not emphasizing enough on education. Education is very important for our staff; otherwise whatever skills they come with, we might tweak it a little bit, but there is no advancement. The system itself limits your education facilities. For example, if you want to go to school part time, that possibility doesn’t exist. So this is what the private sector needs to concentrate more and more on.

Where would you identify the best investment opportunities in the sector today?

ATARI: Education and specialty care are the best investments at this stage. There is a copy cat mentality; nobody wants to get into it until some other people get into it. We need a variety of specialized care. We do not have a stand-alone private dialysis center. We do not have a women’s hospital or a pediatrics hospital. The government is looking into these little things that no one else is venturing into. Everyone wants a general hospital where they include all of this. But I think we should leave this concept. But in order to have specialty hospitals, practitioners must have special skills. Education has to go hand in hand. Educating the people who are working right now is the biggest challenge. We need practical training. There are a lot of universities right now where we can do schooling and all of that, but that is all theoretical I think more than practical right now. The government, especially here in Dubai, has begun to mandate that every licensed professional has continuing education hours. Now it is mandatory to renew your professional license, which is a great step because people have been here 20 years or 30 years but they have not improved their skills. Since doctors are now required to have, I think 50 continuing education credits, that will change. Now if they don’t like to do it on their own they are forced to go and continue their education and to stay with the trend. So this is a good initiative and that’s what we need; more education and specialized care.

Investment opportunities are still here, especially in the medical field and education related to the medical field. We are not looking for just monetary investment; we need investment of knowledge as well. This is very important and this is where we can partner with others. If I partner with X or Y or Z organization, I do not need just money as that is available here. I think in Dubai we have the best equipment and the best facilities. We need more than just money and equipment, we also need the education. If I want to partner with a hospital or this big organization, I do not want their name. Just the name is not good enough for me. I need the system. I am partnering with you because of your knowledge. You have been in the market for 50 or 100 years and we need for that to be copied from whichever system you are in to our own. Right now, we have all of the accreditation and all that. We are looking for more to improve the whole system, and one person will not do it. We are looking for investment here, but not just medical investment. The opportunities are there; it just depends on what they want, which is improvement in the area. That is a trend, everyone goes after the upper class but there is a big segment that we are neglecting. And this is a big chunk of the equation that we are looking at. This is one area that is neglected and I think we have to examine that because the opportunity is there.