Soon, they can skip the trip. Early next year the
Cleveland Clinic plans to open an ultra-modern, 364-bed specialty
hospital on Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi, one of the most ambitious
forays into the oil-rich country by a U.S. healthcare brand.
The expansion comes as the Cleveland Clinic slashes hundreds of
millions of dollars off its U.S. operations to prepare for
government and private-sector spending cuts under President Barack
Obama's healthcare overhaul. Cleveland Clinic's chief executive
officer, Dr Toby Cosgrove, said the move will help bring in new
"We look at it as our petrodollars coming home to Cleveland,"
Cosgrove said in an interview last week during the Reuters Health
Summit. "It's money coming back to us."
Cleveland Clinic already helps manage the Sheikh Khalifa Medical
City acute-care facility in Abu Dhabi. But the new venture will for
the first time put its name and personnel in the region.
Peers in the field of world-class medicine, such as the Mayo Clinic,
have struggled with efforts to expand there in the past. Cosgrove
said the Cleveland Clinic's 15-year deal, under which the United
Arab Emirates will pay doctors' salaries and management fees, allows
it to avoid financial risk.
The Cleveland Clinic's reputation could suffer if it fails to
deliver the same quality of care overseas, Cosgrove said. As a
result, 70 percent of the 150 doctors it has hired are from North
America, including many who have worked at the Cleveland Clinic. It
will train an additional 2,000 staff members, from technicians to
While the Cleveland Clinic has been approached by nearly 70 other
countries interested in importing its brand, Cosgrove said he would
see how the Abu Dhabi venture performs before considering further
The UAE is "trying to position itself on the global scene," said Jad
Bitar, partner leading the healthcare practice for Booz and Co. "To
do this, it has associated itself with the best hospitals in the
In Ohio, the Cleveland Clinic offers its jet-setting patients
specialty wings that can be cordoned off. Hospital staff closely
orchestrate visits by the elite, overseeing translators, hotel
accommodations and specialty dietary restrictions.
Medical tourism peaked in 2000, when 4,100 foreign patients traveled
to the Cleveland Clinic for so-called concierge treatment. But the
September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington curtailed
such visits. In 2012 the Cleveland Clinic saw 3,200 international
patients, about 35 percent of them from the Middle East.
As international patient counts fell, American facilities began
exporting their brand of U.S. medicine. The Mayo Clinic, a
Rochester, Minn.-based non-profit group, opened a cardiac office in
2005 at Dubai Healthcare City, a health campus of 120 medical
facilities, but closed that office five years later after struggling
to attract patients.
"To charge the fees that you need to cover your costs when you have
U.S.-trained personnel and sophisticated technology, you need some
pretty high volumes," said Misty Hathaway, administrator for the
Mayo Clinic's International Practice and chair of marketing. Mayo's
was "not the right model at the right time," she said.
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The recession brought "tough economic times there for medical
efforts," said Dr Gilbert Mudge, vice president of Harvard Medical
School affiliate Partners Healthcare International, which had
planned to offer medical consulting services for a large hospital
opening in Dubai. That project was later put on hold.
Today, the economy has rebounded and the UAE is ready to try to
expand its medical sector again.
"I think they have recovered and repurposed themselves, and it's
going to be a very dynamic medical city," Mudge said.
LOST IN TRANSLATION?
More than 4,000 physicians applied to join the Cleveland Clinic's
new venture. Dr Marc Harrison was one of them.
"For a guy who likes change, and likes to try new things, this is a
fantastic opportunity," said Harrison, who left his job as chief
medical operations officer in Cleveland Clinic's Ohio facility to
become CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
Doctors practicing in the region will need to familiarize themselves
with Middle Eastern expectations, including the high level of
respect shown to elderly patients and the use of chaperones when
male doctors are seeing female patients.
Getting it right is critical.
Earlier this year the World Medical Association, along with the
American Medical Association, warned of the risks to doctors
practicing in the UAE, stating that the country had failed to meet
international fair trial standards in the nine-month detainment of a
doctor last year.
Dr Cyril Karabus, a South African pediatric oncologist, was jailed
for two months and held in the country for seven more months after
being absolved of manslaughter and fraud charges in connection with
the death of a child who had been treated in 2002. Karabus was
unaware of the allegations until he was arrested in Dubai in 2012
during a layover from Canada.
In an interview with South Africa's SABC News, Karabus advised
doctors practicing in the UAE to be "very careful."
"All I did was treat a child with leukemia, which is what I was
supposed to be there for, and suddenly I'm accused of murdering
her," Karabus said in the interview. "It's a very difficult country
because the expatriates are second-rate citizens."
(Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg;
editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Douglas Royalty)
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