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Saudi Healthcare Sector

Elevating local growth, soaring in global rankings, and passionately committed to patient satisfaction

It is well known that the Saudi healthcare sector is the largest among the Gulf countries, given that the Kingdom is the largest in terms of area, population, and economy. The Kingdom accounts for approximately 48 percent of the total government spending on healthcare in the Gulf, with costs expected to exceed $23 billion in the current year. Meanwhile, the healthcare sector’s budget has increased by $4.5 billion, indicating the massive funding that the government is providing to advance this sector and always keep it at the forefront of leadership. Although the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the weaknesses of many large healthcare sectors worldwide, the Saudi healthcare sector showed remarkable resilience against any decline and resistance to any pressures. This is because its leadership has placed health and medical services at the top of the Vision 2030 priorities, making it the focus of citizens and expatriates.

The healthcare sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has achieved a significant qualitative leap, recording the highest efficiency, safety, and patient care levels. The Kingdom has prepared the Ministry of Health’s 2030 strategic plan to ensure the full and purposeful implementation of the healthcare transformation program. The health transformation program is working on restructuring the sector to be based on individual and community service. The plan aims to focus on public health, enhance disease prevention, facilitate individuals’ access to healthcare services, and increase patient satisfaction with the services provided.

In the short term, by 2025, the plan aims to achieve several goals, including increasing the percentage of populated areas covered by health services to 88% to facilitate individuals’ access to healthcare services. The plan also aims for 100% of the Kingdom’s population to be included in a unified digital medical record by 2025, improving medical practice and enhancing doctors’ ability to diagnose and treat diseases.

Vision 2030 also addresses mental health, focusing on the psychological well-being of individuals and society. The healthcare sector’s development was evident during the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and in addressing its impacts. The Kingdom has achieved several accomplishments, including digitizing the healthcare sector by launching apps to improve healthcare services, such as the ‘Sehaty’ and ‘Mawid’ applications. 

Additionally, there has been a reduction in the rate of deaths resulting from road accidents, a decrease in the time required to provide healthcare, and the creation of a clean, health environment and community free of any pollution or hindrances that prevent it from enjoying good health.

The private medical sector has also taken initiatives for years to collaborate with the Ministry of Health in providing various medical services. They have reached a level of trust and professional competence among their staff to a high degree. For example, approximately 12 million expatriates benefit from private medical services, benefiting insurance companies as well. Healthcare services are provided to more than 31 million citizens and residents and several million visitors during the Hajj and Umrah periods through healthcare facilities that include medical cities, specialized hospitals, university hospitals, military hospitals, and primary care centers.

Saudi Arabia’s Hospitals Among the Best Globally

There’s no doubt about the significant achievements that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made in the healthcare sector, both in the public and private sectors. These successes have made the Kingdom a destination for those seeking medical treatment from abroad, whose numbers are increasing daily. 

Saudi medical centers and numerous hospitals have been listed among the best hospitals worldwide in reliable international reports, including rankings by the American magazine Newsweek.’ Countries were chosen based on various factors for comparison, such as living standards, average life expectancy, population size, number of hospitals, and data availability. More than 80,000 medical experts were invited to participate in the online survey, which focused on patient experience and hospital quality metrics, like quality of care data and hygiene procedures.

Recently, a ‘Newsweek’ ranking revealed that Saudi hospitals are among the best in 28 countries worldwide, followed by the UAE. The report clarified that American hospitals took the top three spots among 250 global hospitals.

The ranking included 34 hospitals in the Kingdom, listing (according to specific ranking criteria) the top 10 Saudi hospitals for the year 2023 as follows:

  1. King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center – Riyadh
  2. King Abdulaziz Medical City (National Guard Health Affairs) – Riyadh
  3. King Abdullah Medical City – Mecca
  4. King Fahd Medical City – Riyadh
  5. King Saud Medical City – Riyadh
  6. Dr. Sulaiman Al Habib Hospital – Jeddah
  7. Prince Sultan Military Medical City – Riyadh
  8. King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center – Jeddah
  9. Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare Center – Eastern Province
  10. King Abdulaziz Medical City (National Guard Health Affairs) – Jeddah

This undoubtedly indicates the success of Saudi hospitals in achieving global standards in service, care, and patient outcomes. This could only have happened with the wise public and private management and the considerable efforts exerted across various locations and over years of dedication, persistence, and spending.

Initiatives to Stimulate the Private Sector

Over time, several major private hospitals have emerged in various regions and have transitioned into publicly traded joint-stock companies, partially offering their shares for public subscription. Regulations and governance systems in the healthcare sector have reached a high level of trust and security. The Saudi Ministry of Health recently launched three initial initiatives within a program to stimulate private sector facilities to transition into public joint-stock companies. These align with the Financial Sector Development Program, one of the 12 executive programs launched by the Council for Economic and Development Affairs. 

The three initiatives include:

  1. Giving priority to nationally listed companies in the Saudi financial market to access training programs provided by the Ministry, along with special privileges, by offering the programs at incentive fees.
  2. Prioritizing healthcare to access additional information and data for reports and statistics related explicitly to the Ministry for all nationally listed companies in the Saudi financial market.
  3. Granting speaking and advertising privileges to these national companies at events organized by the Ministry

All health authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia confirm that since the country’s establishment, public health and disease prevention have been among the government’s top priorities. Subsequent health legislation have affirmed this vision and laid out its executive mechanisms. The health law in Saudi Arabia aims to provide comprehensive healthcare to all people in a fair and accessible manner. Healthcare in government medical facilities is offered to citizens free of charge, based on a new health strategy that meets the needs of the healthcare sector. In cases where a patient is referred for treatment outside their residence within or outside the Kingdom, the Ministry of Health bears the expenses of the patients and their companions during the treatment period.

The Kingdom has also implemented a unified and comprehensive system for all health licensing services, which features direct technical integration with all relevant government agencies. For example, a healthcare facility owner can obtain preliminary approval for a license and issue the final permit through registration on the electronic health services platform “Seha.” Healthcare practitioners can also get a permit to provide electronic services through the Seha platform within 30 seconds.

The Ministry of Health has provided an interactive map on its website that shows all locations of government medical facilities and other relevant information about the facilities. To facilitate beneficiaries’ access to healthcare services and ease their transition between different types of care, the Ministry aims to launch healthcare clusters across all regions of the Kingdom. 

These clusters will allow the movement of medical expertise and provide the beneficiary with an integrated and interconnected network of healthcare service providers under a single administrative structure.

The Kingdom has facilitated access to healthcare services, increasing the percentage of urban and rural communities that have access to essential healthcare services at their locations from 78% in 2016 to 85.7% in 2020, with the number expected to rise further in 2023. To protect against the consequences of health crises and disasters, a specialized center known as the National Center for Health Emergency Operations has been established.

It is a strategic project aimed at enhancing health crisis and disaster management at national and local levels. The center provides decision-makers with accurate information in crises for use in early warnings. The Kingdom has stayed in the field of digital health, one of the most essential transformation programs managed by the Vision Realization Office within the Ministry of Health.

Digital technology plays a vital role in supporting the delivery of a digital health vision and in implementing this effective strategy. The digital healthcare system aims to transform healthcare delivery by expanding the application of technology to provide safer and more efficient healthcare services for the Kingdom’s community.

Significant Measures for Better Health

The Ministry of Health has created a health passport system for mothers and children. This records their medical history, monitors their health, and requests necessary tests and analyses. All this information is then documented in the health passport for use in healthcare centers, serving as the primary reference for the health of mothers and children. This measure aims to provide comprehensive healthcare, safe pregnancy, and healthy childhood. The elderly are also given special attention in Saudi society, as the state offers special programs to meet their needs. It is also committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities and striving to achieve well-being and a decent life for them and their families.

After all this effort and all the achievements aimed at providing the best service to patients and the best health safety for society, it is essential to look at patient satisfaction. From this standpoint, the Saudi Ministry of Health has adopted a Patient Experience Measurement Program. This is one of the Ministry’s initiatives aimed at empowering key beneficiaries (patients and their families) to participate in improvement by measuring their satisfaction after receiving various healthcare services in facilities operating under the Ministry of Health. This is done through questionnaires designed for each journey separately and through an independent third party to ensure impartiality in the results. The program measures satisfaction in hospitals, specialized centers, primary healthcare, blood banks, smoking cessation centers, pre-marital screening centers, and other services provided. 

The program’s outcomes are determined through:

  • Measuring patient satisfaction in the facilities and services of the Ministry of Health to develop improvement projects for the quality of services and the patient experience in accessing them, and work on increasing the satisfaction of the beneficiaries.
  • Providing decision-makers with data to assist in making important decisions based primarily on the interests of the beneficiaries.
  •  Setting a unique standard for patient experience levels at the national level.
  •  Comparing the level of services provided between Ministry facilities in different regions.
  •  Comparing patient experience levels in Ministry of Health facilities with their counterparts at the GCC and international levels.
  •  Understanding the priorities and factors for improving the patient experience at the level of facilities and services of the Ministry of Health.
  • After all this, the Saudi healthcare sector has gained the trust of patients domestically and global rating references internationally, thus culminating noble endeavors and efforts that have proven fruitful.

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