While the two main strategic priorities of healthcare providers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) continue to be operational efficiency and care outcome improvements, an increasing emphasis is being placed on the standardization of clinical protocols as well. 

That’s according to a survey conducted by L.E.K. Consulting and Guidepoint of 50 executives at public and private hospitals in the region. The survey explored three key areas: strategic priorities, financial outlook and digitalization/innovation. 

In the strategic priorities category, providers are focused on improving clinical outcomes, enhancing patient experience, and boosting operational efficiency through cost reductions and clinical protocol standardization, which are in turn underpinned by investments in new digital capabilities along with the development and expansion of clinical staff, including their pool of physicians. 

These translate into building digital infrastructure and providing clinicians access to new medical technology. To that end, 56% of the hospitals represented in the survey plan to increase spending on infrastructure over the next three years, with priority being placed on digital capabilities. Nearly 60% plan to invest in expanding and/or developing their clinical staff, including their pools of physicians.

In the digitalization and innovation category, patient engagement solutions across registration, booking, payer coverage and tools to support remote consultations are among the top digital solutions that hospitals in the region have already adopted. More than 80% have adopted or are trialing online patient registration and appointment booking solutions, for example. And while the use of remote consultation is advanced in the UAE, with over 80% adoption in hospitals, KSA has indicated interest in closing the gap.

In the meantime — due to concerns around patient privacy, the readiness of staff to adopt digital solutions and the implementation of necessary budget requirements — the use of post-discharge monitoring solutions remains low, at less than 20% across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but there is a willingness to explore potential digital health options. 

When it comes to financial outlook, private hospitals in the region have recovered better from the impact of COVID-19 than their public counterparts and have a positive outlook on profitability over the short-to-medium term. Indeed, all the large private hospitals represented in the study expect positive EBITDA margins going forward. The key drivers cited by private providers as underpinning the sustainability of their respective businesses were general economic growth and patient confidence. The other factor was cost-reduction plans enabled by investments in cost-tracking solutions, with 62% of private providers surveyed saying they plan on investing in solutions that track cost at a more granular level.

To learn more about the strategic implications for healthcare providers in the UAE and KSA, please download our analysis.

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