Private healthcare gets healthy dose

From having just two hospitals and 13 physicians 35 years ago, Oman's efficiency in healthcare delivery and use of financial resources got high recognition when the country secured top spot among 191 nations in World Health Organisation's (WHO) 2000 World Health Report.

The Sultanate's large size and difficult terrain physically and financially hampers the delivery of healthcare services to its 2.5 million population. With the Omani population growing at two per cent annually and the presence of a large expatriate workforce, the healthcare system is overburdened. The inability to meet the rising demand for government healthcare services has opened up opportunities for private hospitals.

The 2005 national budget allotted RO 5 million to the Ministry of Health for capital expenditures -- the establishment of small, specialized hospitals and clinics in rural areas. In the past few years, private players have jumped onto the urban scene. They have helped in supplementing the government efforts as well as providing ample opportunities for quality care, international referrals and jobs to Omanis.
Currently, Oman has three private hospitals and more than 500 clinics. The ministry encourages private investment and even provides partial finance up to RO 10 million to projects ranging from private hospitals to pharmaceuticals. The ministry regularly receives many applications from private individuals and companies interested in investing in the healthcare sector.

The ministry provides technical advice and extends co-operation to private investors in setting up hospitals, clinics and pharmaceuticals.

The ministry monitors the planning, construction and the actual running of the private hospital through technical protocol and selection of doctors, nurses and paramedical staff.

The ministry also advises private hospitals on various protocols about patient care and, through periodic visits, ensures that the hospitals function within the framework of these protocols.

The main hospitals in Muscat are the Royal, Khoula, Al Nadha, and Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, all of which provide highly specialised medical care and operate as referral hospitals for the whole of the Sultanate.

The Royal Hospital is a specialist referral health establishment equipped with advanced technology while the Khoula Hospital is the Sultanate's referral hospital for cases related to orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, cosmetic surgery and burns.
The Al Nahda Hospital specialises in ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgery and eye surgery and treatment as well as jaw, gum and dental surgery and treatment, dermatology and nervous diseases while the Sultan Qaboos University Hospital is fully equipped to train students of the SQU's College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Additionally, the hospital offers services to the Omani community.

The two main private hospitals in Muscat are the Muscat Private Hospital at Bausher (specializing in obstetrics, IVF treatment, general surgery, internal medicine and paediatrics) and the Al Shatti Hospital in Qurm (specializing in general medicine, cosmetic surgery and has a 'walk-in" clinic).

In Dhofar, the Sultan Qaboos Hospital in Salalah is the main referral hospital. It has departments for internal diseases, gynaecology and obstetrics, paediatrics, general and orthopaedic surgery, dermatology, eyes, ENT, dentistry and other medical specialisations. There are five small hospitals treating a range of disorders and providing maternity service besides 26 health centers.

In Dakhiliyah region, there are Nizwa Hospital, the Nizwa Polyclinic and 11 health centers. In Sharqiyah region, there are ten hospitals including the Ibra Hospital (North Sharqiyah), which also has nine health centers, and the Sur Hospital (South Sharqiyah), which is also served by the Sur Polyclinic and 12 health centers.
Batinah has ten hospitals, Dhahirah has five hospitals and 13 health centers, Musandam has three hospitals and three health centers, and Al Wusta region has two hospitals and seven health centers.

Even with extensive network of hospitals and health centers all over the Sultanate, there is still more room for private polyclinics to operate in different regions. Reputed polyclinic chains, which have been well established in the Middle East as well as other developing countries, have come to Oman. The instant success of these polyclinics should encourage other chains to set up shop in the Sultanate.

At the forefront of Oman's private healthcare sector is the Muscat Private Hospital, which opened in October 2000. It is currently considered Muscat's premier private medical facility. Located in the rapidly developing and scenic area of Bausher, this hospital boasts of first-class out-patient and in-patient facilities for many specialties, including a Diagnostic Centre with CT Scan and the latest "open" MRI.

Managed by Allied Medical (part of UME), an international hospital management group with more than 27 years of experience in the Middle East, the Muscat Private Hospital has set high standards of patient care.

Owned by His Highness Sayyid Esaad Bin Tarik, Al Shatti Hospital is a modern hospital situated on the seashore of Shatti Al Qurum district of Muscat.

It was officially opened in December 1996. With emphasis on personalised service and efficiency, Al Shatti provides a broad range of services, including laser refractive surgery, personal and group counseling and cosmetic surgical procedures, all new to Oman.

Some key players in the private sector are the Badra Al Samaa Polyclinic, which began with one outlet in Ruwi about four years ago and currently has two more outlets at Al Khuwair and Sohar. Joint Director Abdul Latheef informed that the group plans to start full-fledged hospitals in Sohar and Muscat in a few years.
"Badr Al Samaa in Muscat has seen patient increase by 300 per cent from the time of its start. In the increased number of patients there is equal proportion of Omanis and expatriates," he said.

He further stated that the proposed hospital at Sohar has been planned to meet the rising need for specialised healthcare and it would be ready in one and half year's time.

Joint Director P.A. Mohammed said that the Sohar Polyclinic was group's small venture and that the group is setting up a hospital at Sohar. "After acquiring a plot of land and having submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Health for a high-class specialty hospital in Sohar, we are awaiting final clearance from the authorities," he said.

The hospital will have specialised departments like cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, urology, gastroenterology and neurology. Once established, the hospital will be a giant step in the private healthcare sector.

Joint Director V.T. Vinod said Badr Al Samaa has always strived to give patients the best possible medical treatment at affordable rates. The polyclinic has been installing various latest state-of-the-art equipment to handle a variety of specialised medical care and treatment. "All these innovations are made possible because of the tremendous support we have received from the people of Oman. This support has enabled us to carve a name for ourselves in the annals of Oman's the medical history."

Several other private institutions providing healthcare include the Al Hayat Polyclinic, which has been credited for introducing some specialised services in the private sector, the Apollo Polyclinic, which is associated with the renowned Apollo Hospital Group in India, and the Kottakal Arya Vaidyasala, which provides alternate ayurvedic cures. Some private clinics provide Chinese, Indian and Arabian traditional medicine.
As Dr. K. P. Raman, of Al Hayat, puts it, "there is enough of room for private polyclinics to operate in Oman but, ultimately, it is only those who provide consistent, good quality and reasonably priced services that will be popular. We strive to offer our patients the best treatment and best value for money."