Healthcare Market Trends in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, has displayed steady healthcare market growth during the last few years and presents a wide array of opportunities for industry players. Healthcare market growth has been driven by factors such as an aging population, urbanization, increases in disposable incomes, increased incidence of chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular problems, diabetes and obesity), and higher demands for quality care.

The increased demand for quality healthcare has compelled different governments within the GCC to explore newer options that will help each country rise to the challenge of meeting population needs.

During the next few years the GCC market is expected to expand at a rate of 12% yearly reaching a worth of about € 64 bln by 2018 according to a report by Alpen Capital. About 79 % of the market will be accounted for by outpatient services, while the latter 21 % will correspond to inpatient services. When looking at the GCC, Saudi Arabia is and will continue to be the largest market, followed by UAE. Additionally, the countries that are expected to have the fastest growth during the next few years are Qatar and the UAE.

One of the biggest healthcare challenges currently faced by the GCC has to do with a shortage of hospital beds. Demand has risen from 11,200 in 2013 to and expected 115,500 in 2018. Governments already have plans in place to increase their infrastructure and keep up with demand.

This exploration to find new healthcare solutions has led GCC countries to expand and improve upon their current systems of care through the implementation of new technologies, new care systems and a series of public/private partnerships. Many countries in the GCC view healthcare as an engine of overall growth. Consequently, governments are investing heavily in modernizing and reforming their respective healthcare systems with the goal of further diversifying the economy.

According to an article by Arab Health Magazine, one of the ways in which GCC countries are rising to the challenge, is through the adoption of non-traditional ways of streamlining healthcare services, like the usage of different types of technologies. Trends in the usage of healthcare technologies have been spearheaded by countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and include the implementation of evisits and the digitization of healthcare records and patient management systems. Healthcare expenditure on IT is estimated to have reached € 513 m this year and it is expected to continue to increase in the years to come as more GCC countries implement the usage of electronic records in their rapidly expanding healthcare systems.

Another recent trend among GCC countries is the change in focus from just treating a condition to preventing it, using accountable care models. This type of approach will improve healthcare standards, diminish over consumption and reduce costs in the long run.

According to an article by the Oman Daily Observer, increases in the GCC’s insurance premiums is outpacing the growth on the global market, while insurance penetration remains one of the shortest in the world.

A growing trend in GCC countries is also the increase of inbound medical tourism. The UAE and Oman are leading the way in tapping into this potential resource for growth with the government providing specialized facilities to support the trend.

GCC governments are also looking at public Private partnership models to help reduce overall financial risks, enhance the quality and range of services, gain expertise and prompt innovation.

Future plans for healthcare in the GCC include further expanding current infrastructure, developing strategies to attract and retain healthcare professionals, and action plans to improve and equalize access to care.

The healthcare market is expected to continue its growth through the increased usage and improvement of medical insurances, which will allow more people to afford and use medical care. Public private partnerships will play an imperative part in the overall healthcare market growth, encouraged and subsidized by the different GCC governments. Despite the current challenges, the outlook for the GCC healthcare market is quite optimistic and will continue to be one of the more attractive markets for investments in years to come.

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About Ritza Suazo

Researches and creates Clinical Pathways and Country Deep Dive Reports at TforG. With almost a decade of experience in Clinical Market research she also manages and recruits the TforG advisory board.
She graduated with a double major in psychology and international business management from Stony Brook University in New York and continues to apply her experience in research specializing in the US, UK, Spain and South American Markets.