To date, Oman’s health sector has generally been in the hands of its government. Like most oil-rich nations of the GCC, Oman has long sought to provide free or heavily subsidized healthcare for both citizens and expats alike. However, private hospitals in Oman have slowly but surely been gaining ground, thanks in part to its large expat population. Their next step to continuing success is expanding and improving their tertiary care services, a segment traditionally managed by the public sector.
Oman’s health system has not always been so rosy. Up until 1970, Omanis were served by only two hospitals, and the average life expectancy was 49.3 years. Starting with the reign of the late Sultan Qaboos, the Ministry of Health was established and has since set about at creating the infrastructure necessary to provide its citizens with free public health services. Today, Oman has 69 hospitals, providing the country with over 5,400 beds. More than 80% of its total health bill is footed by the ministry, with 2018 expenditures listed at OMR678.3 million. In spite of impressive public health offerings, Oman’s private health businesses have managed to carve out a place for themselves in Oman’s health sector.
With the way the health system in Oman is currently organized, the pharmaceutical and dentistry sectors are left almost entirely to the private sector. This is obvious when looking at the numbers of public versus private hospitals and clinics. In 2018, 25 private hospitals were recorded; latest confirmed figures (from 2015) say the amount of private doctors employed at these hospitals was 430, while private clinics and pharmacies employ nearly quadruple that amount (1,529, according to the same figures). Meanwhile, doctors in the government hospitals number 6,941.
Tertiary care, also known as in-patient care, makes up a large part of the public health bill. Some 47% of the state’s health bill is for in-patient care, according to 2015 numbers. This number will only grow, as populations are living longer and health needs change. And in order to encourage competition in services, the government has begun introducing mandatory health insurance for expats, the people mainly receiving care from the private sector. And though personnel may be lacking, thanks to technological advances and investments being made, private hospitals may start taking a bigger share of tertiary care patients.
It has been no secret that IT advancements, specifically in IoT, big data analysis, and AI, will radically change how we receive health services. But besides changing the services themselves, these technologies have the ability to increase efficiency, thus cutting down on costs. As noted to TBY by Sadik Kodakat, Chairman of the Starcare Group, “Frost & Sullivan anticipate that operationalizing AI platforms across select healthcare workflows would result in a 10-15% gain in productivity in the next two to three years.” Furthermore, tertiary care, which typically deals with complex health procedures and resulting long-term inpatient care, will improve with the use of these technologies, especially in cardiac surgeries, cancer management, plastic surgery, and palliative interventions. As the government pushes more people to use private sector options for this type of care, it will also help with costs and drive better care in the sector. K.P. Raman, Chairman of the Al Hayat International Hospital, told TBY, “When you do you high-volume work, your prices can be competitive without compromising on quality, which we intend to leverage so as to push tertiary care to higher standards.”
The reality that Oman faces today is rising healthcare costs, thanks in part to today’s health problems: while previous diseases treated relied on more immediate life-saving treatment, today’s health concerns encompass more lifestyle diseases. The type of long-term treatment needed for these diseases (and their exponential growth in GCC countries) has increased costs of healthcare. “Private-sector involvement is becoming imperative to meet the rising demand for healthcare as well as to reduce the burden of cost on government finances,” Kodakat explained in his TBY interview. It is with this in mind that the government is turning to the private sector to give Omanis and expats the care they need.