What inspired you to set up Iraq Health?
In the summer of 2006, I swapped my scrubs for a dark suit, and began my transition from surgical trainee at the hospital to health policy maker. I joined the corporate world in 2011.
These days, I try to balance my day job with a white-hat interest called “Iraq Health”. Launched in 2009, its purpose is to attract regional healthcare players to Iraq where they present their offerings. We aimed to socialise the model of PPP with health policy makers in the country. However, though partnership with the private sector might provide a solution to the shortage of supply and the increasing demands made upon quality healthcare services, the model could not work. The political situation was — and remains — too unstable.
What is the significance of basing your work in the UAE? What particular challenges and opportunities does the area present for entrepreneurs?
The UAE has become the regional hub for innovation, and with the help of a clear, government-led vision, it has grown into one of the top destinations for entrepreneurship. In Dubai, we have many government incubators and accelerators, such as Dubai 100 and Dubai Future Accelerator, among many other successful hubs. Beyond this, there are privately-owned co-working spaces and startup hubs, such as Astrolabs and Turn8. I, on the other hand, decided to spend time at Silicon Valley. I developed my own views while I was there. This proved to be the right path for me, and last summer, alongside my friend Hisham Safadi, a dentist and entrepreneur based in Ras Al Khamiah, I pitched the idea of a hybrid model with RAK government.
The RAK Incubator and Accelerator was born a few months later — we ran a startup weekend event to engage the local audience. The model is simple: like the government hubs, we help entrepreneurs obtain the necessary legal requirements to run their businesses. What makes us different is that we have fashioned our selection criteria with a revenue-driven approach. We currently have 18 companies. Our target is 40, and no more.
Regarding medical tourism within Dubai, how has the landscape changed most recently? What do you hope to next accomplish?
The SME segment is at the heart of the UAE economy. This segment is growing and, though its growth is not as high as we’d like, it has strong traction with government institutions, and a clear mandate to encourage and support entrepreneurship in the UAE and the region.
Sehteq’s “Arabic for your health” is a good example of this. The company started out in 2015 as a medical tourism or cross-border treatment solution provider in the UAE, focussed on offering end-to-end packages for cancer, and eye treatment for Iraqi patients at selective hospitals in Jordan, Turkey and India. Today, Sehteq has become a government initiative that partners with the Department of Economic Development in Ras Al Khamiah. It provides a digital health insurance platform with clearly explained and easily purchasable health insurance products. The initiative is in the incubation stage, and is managed by the RAK Incubator and Accelerator. This has in turn allowed the platform to benefit from the full scope of innovative ideas and entrepreneurial skill associated with the hub.
Could you speak to the significance of digital technologies in the expansion of the healthcare market? What sticks out for you as the most exciting developments (wearable gadgets, early diagnosis, AI, 3D, etc.)?
Health insurance is a legacy business, one that is trapped within the rigid compliance systems of the UAE and the Gulf. The combined power generated by the grouping of experienced insurance executives with sparky young entrepreneurs, plus technology and innovation knowledge, has balanced the offering. The platform translates innovation from blockchain, AI, and startup UX, and applies it to the standard practices of policy underwriting, claims processing and payment systems.
Both individuals and corporations can visit the website, review the standard products that are carefully designed and regularly updated, compare products’ features (all formulated in simple language and no fine print), and then instantly purchase the coverage. Furthermore, we’re currently testing the instant use of this coverage, with contracted providers using the consumer’s national ID to skip the wait for a printed insurance card.
All of the above is exciting news for startups and entrepreneurs. I’ve even seen a more pronounced interest at corporate level to bring innovation to the core of what they do. At UnitedHealth Group, we take innovation very seriously. UHG spent a total of 4 billion dollars in R&D and innovation last year to create a new technology solution to improve the health system.
Artificial intelligence technology has proven its use in many industries — including healthcare. The other key trend is consumer-driven solutions. Our generation are known as technology immigrants, and yet we still manage to get things done; filling forms, standing in long lines and waiting on calls. This generation of digital natives would never bow to this, and the smartest companies are busy building solutions for that future: when being digital is not an option, but a must.