Better Beats Bigger
Through its network of hospitals and clinics in the UAE, Novomed Centers is providing treatment with honesty and integrity at its heart, the company specialising in traditionally underserved areas of healthcare
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Callam Waller
“Today there is an overabundance of medical centres and hospitals in the GCC region, especially in the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. It feels like there are almost more doctors than there are other people in Dubai!”
Spending on healthcare in the Gulf region is rising rapidly. According to a 2018 report by Alpen Capital, expenditure on medical services is set to rise to a massive $104.6 billion in 2022, a marked increase on the estimated $76.1 billion spent in 2017.
In the UAE, the GCC’s most mature market, health spends among its citizens and medical tourists reached $13.7 billion in 2018 and is set to rise to $18.3 billion by 2023.
The opening observation comes from Dr Mazen Sawaf, Founder, CEO & Chairman of UAE-based Novomed Centers.
Commonly known as Dr Max, he saw how congested the market was and decided to focus on the country’s underserved areas of healthcare, launching in 2017 having spent three years in the United States setting up the business in Beverley Hills.
“I love being in Dubai and the UAE,” he adds. “It is a great country and place to work and I have been here for 20 years, so setting up a local company was always on my mind. Novo means new in Latin, and the reason I called the business Novomed is because we are putting new ideas and new technologies into healthcare.”
Extending the boundaries of healthcare
One of the critical points made by Dr Max is that many of Novomed’s services are not covered by the established insurance system of healthcare in the UAE.
For example, the Novomed Integrative Medicine clinic is staffed by physicians specializing in naturopathic and functional medicine, acting in a similar way to how a general practitioner would work in the UK, treating the underlying causes of disease, rather than the symptoms.
“By this I mean they don’t simply look at one area of your health,” says Dr Max.
“Underpinning this is evidenced-based practices that work, grounded in encouraging healthy living and movement.
“Sitting down is like the new smoking of today – people spend hours on end looking at their computers or smartphones. We look at a whole host of things, from emotional wellness to the microbiomes in your gut which are crucial to your digestion and immune system.”
Emotional wellness, as highlighted by the Founder, is another underserved area of healthcare and one that cannot easily be covered by insurance policies.
Here the company, through its Novomed Psychiatry and Neurology (Novomind) unit, runs a dedicated programme out of its branches in Dubai. It is based on the most up to date research from both conventional and natural medicine, creating an integrative approach to long-term physical, mental and emotional health.
“There is a worldwide shortage of professional mental health workers and doctors,” Dr Max explains. “At the same time, more and more people are suffering with emotional wellbeing – wars, increasing divorce rates which impact children, and the addiction to social media are all exacerbating the problem.
“Social media is particularly problematic, as it is creating an environment where some young people can only communicate comfortably through text.
“All these conflicts can at least be partially resolved by access to mental health professionals. Again, this is not necessarily covered by insurance, but investing in these services can lead to a far greater saving both emotionally and financially if it avoids divorce or family lawyer bills.”
Feeling comfortable discussing these issues is vital to Novomed’s offering here, its specialised practice staffed by bilingual naturopathic physicians who can create personalised plans based on the individual’s needs.
This emphasis on individualistic treatment also applies by definition to stem cell therapy, an area of medicine which particularly excites Dr Max, one which he believes will come to define the future of healthcare, especially as populations grow older.
Indeed, the ability to prevent potentially harmful surgery and deal with injuries early could be a game-changer if embraced as it is in countries such as China, where Dr Max believes progress is at least 10 years ahead of Europe and the USA.
“This is not at the experimental stage anymore and in my opinion will be a big part of the future of medicine,” he says. “Rather than wait for surgery, when the injury is fresh or detected early, we can take a little bit of fat from anywhere in your body under local anesthesia, process it and re-inject it into the injured area.
“The stem cell sends signals for the rest of your body to send stem cells to that affected area, thereby accelerating the healing process. There is an amazing future awaiting us with this and it will help people maintain a pain-free life in their older years, crucial given that life expectancy continues to rise.
“Stem cell therapy must be performed in institutions that strictly follow the mandate of health regulations: no advertising – patients should be told that while the treatment is safe, results are not guaranteed. Long term outcome data must be shared with the regulators.”
Built on honesty
Indeed, Dr Max is a big advocate of encouraging citizens to store stem cells for when they need them most, as the cost of the process pales in comparison to the life-enhancing impact such treatment could have further down the line.
But he is all too aware that nobody can have such decisions pressured onto them, his Novomed brand built on the integrity and honesty of its specialists who put their patients’ interests first.
This is made possible by the company’s relatively small setup, its hospitals and clinics operating on a scale which means the doctors are not under pressure to deliver appointments and treatments on a mass scale in order to pay the bills.
“I don’t do big hospitals,” Dr Max states. “In my view small is beautiful – we have 500 employees and 85 doctors, and I know just about all the names of our people. The trick is not to let yourself grow too large to the point where quality drops and management becomes difficult. Better beats bigger.”
Novomed’s hospital in Dubai is surgical, in that it does not admit emergencies, a feature which also enables a thorough home care service to complement its offering.
“We don’t want to keep the patient in the hospital for long after their treatment, as this can cause frustration for them and also creates inefficiencies for us,” Dr Max continues.
“We make sure patients are settled at home with their families and provide appropriate medication if required, such as pain numbing medicines for things like knee or hip replacements. Pain control doesn’t necessarily need to be carried out in the hospital, so if we can help patients at home, we do.”
This will also apply to patients at Novomed’s new hospital in Abu Dhabi, currently under construction and scheduled to open towards the end of 2020.
Beyond the Emirates, Dr Max has his eyes firmly set on extending the company’s reach to Saudi Arabia, his concluding remarks focusing on the new opportunity that lies ahead.
“We have identified opportunities in the underserved areas here, and the simple fact there are 20 million Saudis and one million Emiratis makes this a bigger market for us to explore and make a difference,” he reveals.
“The government in KSA is catching up with the UAE in providing better, more accessible healthcare services, driven by the private sector and legislation to make insurance mandatory. We are in the middle of buying land as we speak, so it’s very much a case of watch this space.”