Healthcare in the UAE

Objectives and Methodology

Sapience conducted a qualitative research study on behalf of one of the leading healthcare providers in the UAE. The study aims at understanding the target segments and their perception to improve the quality of the service. Eight virtual focus group sessions were conducted in the first quarter of 2022, with different nationalities, each group containing 7 participants and an age range from 21 to 60 years. We gathered insights into the thoughts and behaviors of participants as they compared and contrasted their experiences and views. The study provided an overall understanding of why people have different opinions, the strength of their attitudes, and the factors that influence them.

Attitudes Towards the Healthcare System in UAE

The general attitude and satisfaction are skewed towards positiveness, mainly attributed to the high quality and safety of the healthcare system. According to most of the ex-pat participants, UAE has a developed and diverse healthcare infrastructure compared to their hometowns. One East Asian female stated: “I give healthcare providers in UAE a nine out of ten for satisfaction. They are good, advanced, and efficient”. However, many respondents believe that healthcare in UAE is expensive, especially when the insurance doesn’t cover the treatment. The uncertainty of insurance coverage is a problem many participants have faced. One South Asian male participant quoted: “My trust level stops at 60%, and the rest is ifs and buts, especially with the insurance coverage; one day, they cover a treatment, the next, they don’t. There’s a considerable lack of transparency”.

Experience with Healthcare Providers

When we dig deep into patients’ experiences with healthcare providers, we find crucial elements that need attention, such as the sparse ethnic diversity among doctors and staff. This discrepancy has resulted in a series of miscommunications and bad experiences. Some business mentality prevails where providers run unneeded tests and prescribe unnecessary medicine to have more insurance coverage. An Arab Expat female said: “The doctors kept performing unnecessary tests and prescribed the most expensive medications just to get something out of my insurance.” Also, the respondents mentioned prolonged waiting time, lack of transparency, and not taking anxiety or mental illness seriously. “I went to a nearby hospital because I was suffering from anxiety, but the hospital did not have a psychologist. Then I went to another hospital, but they said they were not ready to treat me, so finally, I went to a hospital where I got first aid care and was discharged. The service was minimal, and the staff lacked so much knowledge about mental health”, according to an East Asian female participant.

Relationship Between Happiness and Health

People may have different views about achieving happiness, but the common belief is that health and happiness are inseparable. They clearly understand the meaning of being healthy and what someone should do to maintain healthy living. Healthcare embraces medical care and includes someone’s responsibility to care for themselves mentally, socially, and physically. One East Asian male said: “Healthcare is how you restore your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If I’m sick, I need medical care and a doctor to consult regarding my medical condition”.

Where to Seek Healthcare Information

When seeking health information, respondents use a variety of sources, such as healthcare professionals, family and friends, WhatsApp groups, google, and other online resources, including social media and trusted websites. “I only trust websites that end with .org or .gov,” a Western Female said. The doctor and sometimes the pharmacist has a significant role in providing health information. Still, we depict that consulting the doctor first or referring to other sources of information sometimes varies according to the respondents’ gender or nationality and needs.

Unsurprisingly, participants view all healthcare facilities as sad places. They represent sickness, danger, compromised safety, and death. Also, visiting someone sick and seeing many sick people is depressing. They become relieving places only when the patient feels they are in safe hands and will be cured. They are also places of delight in case of childbirth.

Hospitals vs. Clinics vs. Pharmacies

Accessibility, insurance coverage, doctors’ qualification, and recommendation are among the top drivers for selecting a healthcare facility. Choosing between a hospital, clinic, or pharmacy depends on the severity of the case. Hospitals provide comprehensive service and are the leading destination in emergencies, whereas clinics are more accessible and less crowded. Some participants said they would go to the hospital first because it has all the necessary medical care and specialty doctors. Others select clinics because it is easier for them to get there while at the same time getting a consultation from specialists, just like the hospital. Some mentioned that clinics are less crowded, more hygienic, and less expensive than hospitals. Pharmacies are helpful for basic needs and simple symptoms or when they need available medication for the flu, vitamins, and food supplements. A pharmacist also plays a vital role in recommending mild illness and explaining medications. However, participants, especially the Arabs, prefer to communicate with Arab pharmacists using their native language. They can confirm home remedies and discuss medical terms that are difficult to transpire in English.

Loyalty to Doctors

Patients base their loyalty on their doctors because they know their medical history, so they tend to follow the doctor if he shifts to another institution. Only some participants stay at the same medical facility because of insurance restrictions and the new facility’s location. The only exceptions are parents. When related to their kids, they did not mention cost or accessibility. They immediately said they would follow the doctor who knows their kids’ medical history and case.