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April 19, 2012, 9:26 am
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Dr. Marc Harrison, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

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A. Marc Harrison, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

Editor’s Note: One of the key objectives of the Government of Abu Dhabi is to improve quality of care by partnering with world-class organizations and reducing the need for patients to travel abroad for treatmentScheduled to open in the fourth quarter of 2013, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD) currently represents one of the world’s largest healthcare construction projects. Developed in partnership with Mubadala Healthcare, the 360-bed facility will serve local and international patients in a physician-led model of care that mirrors the care provided at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Medical Travel Today recently spoke to the CCAD’s chief executive officer, Dr. Marc Harrison, to learn more about Cleveland Clinic’s decision to open the facility and how it’s progressing.

Medical Travel Today (MTT): I read in your bio that you moved from Cleveland to Abu Dhabi to pursue this opportunity. What about it made you willing to move yourself and your family to the other side of the world?

Marc Harrison (MH): You’re right. I had a great position in our campus in Cleveland working as the chief medical operations officer and, frankly, I wasn’t thinking about a move. However, our CEO is a very persuasive guy. He convinced me to come take a look at what was being done and to get to know some of the key players. And let me say this about Abu Dhabi: It’s a very compelling place. The amount of change that has taken place here and continues to take place, along with the quality of people, both nationals and expatriates, is extraordinary. I think right now our staff is made up of 26 or 27 different nationalities. Each brings a perspective and background that’s unique and adds to what’s being done.

Now, as it turns out, I’m someone who loves change, and I like feeling like I’m part of something big. This effort fits for me in both of those categories. Also, I met
Suhail Mahmood Al Ansari, the executive director of Mubadala Healthcare and, well, I just can’t say enough about him…his vision, the intellect he brings to the project. All of that was more than I could say no to. It’s really a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m so very glad I’m here.

MTT: How did Cleveland Clinic select Abu Dhabi as a location?

MH: One of the key objectives of the Government of Abu Dhabi is to improve quality of care by partnering with world-class organizations to establish facilities here. Cleveland Clinic was selected as the ideal partner for this specific project. Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio has a long-standing relationship with people from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Over time the Clinic’s chief executive officer and president, Dr. Delos Cosgrove, developed a relationship with both the business and political leaders, and a conversation evolved from there. Now, the vision is taking shape beautifully and quickly. Personally, I love the building and how it’s coming together. I’m particularly excited about the terrific doctors and staff.

MTT: Can you tell us anything about the recruiting effort for staff and physicians?

MH: Yes, but I want to note that the mission of CCAD is, first, to provide the people of the Emirates, and specifically Abu Dhabi, with world-class healthcare at home. We’re hoping to create a credible alternative that will allow families to stay closer to home for care. That said, we will undoubtedly attract patients from elsewhere, but our first mission is to serve the community that’s here.

One way we’re doing that is by recruiting physician leadership from the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, 80 percent of our physician leadership is from the main campus. When we open, we’ll have 175 doctors on staff, half of whom will be from the United States. Most will be from the Cleveland Clinic or have been trained there. The rest will come from other countries with impeccable medical training and care. The physician-led approach to care is really integral to the care delivered.

Our chief of staff, Tomislav Mihaljevic, is the world’s best robotic heart surgeon. He’s now recruited the best minimally invasive coronary thoracic surgeon to come on board. What we’ll be able to offer when we open is really unmatched, and certainly unseen before, in this region. In the past, citizens of the UAE were traveling to North America or Europe for that kind of treatment. That type of travel simply won’t be needed in the future.

MTT: The appeal to residents is obvious. What are your plans, if any, for recruiting international patients?

MH: We plan on replicating the same model used at our main campus. There, 90 percent of our patients come from Ohio and the contiguous states. But we do have a large number of patients coming to us from abroad.

In order to facilitate that same type of international patient draw, we’re looking to promote first the quality of care and, second, how easy it is to reach us here. I didn’t know this before but it turns out Abu Dhabi has more direct flights to other national capitals than any other city in the world. Getting here is simply not a challenge.

Once they’re here, we’re working to make sure they have the amenities desired. We’re actually physically connected to the Rosewood Hotel, a five-star accommodation for patients and their families. And the city itself is really very chic. It’s pedestrian-friendly and very cosmopolitan.

MTT: What’s the expectation in terms of the types of patient care needs?

MH: Care will be focused around our five different institutes: digestive disease, eye, heart and vascular, neurological, respiratory, and critical care.

A long time ago the Cleveland Clinic recognized they couldn’t be all things to all people, and instead decided to do what they did with depth and excellence. That’s exactly what we’ll be doing here. There’s no reason the model shouldn’t work just as well here as it does in the States.

In terms of the international patient base, I suspect we’ll see some patients from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC — BahrainKuwaitOmanQatarSaudi Arabia, and so on) because of the ease of travel related to proximity and flexible visa regulations. This will be a real opportunity for people from the Middle East to get culturally competent care and clinically excellent care. The Cleveland Clinic has developed a number of best practices that we fully intend to “steal” and implement here.

MTT: Does that mean you won’t be doing anything differently?

EH: There are a few things we’ll be improving. Our IT system will be unique. We’ll be using the cloud model for IT support. And the use of CarePATH and order sets is also more sophisticated. There are a number of less glamorous operational things we’re changing or building to improve upon old methods and models, but the care delivery model will stay the same.

MTT: So there’s a lot of leveraging of existing systems and identity?

EH: Yes, we’re leveraging systems and identity, but we’re also bringing the culture. There are many institutions that have taken forays abroad, bringing small numbers of people from the home culture but not really seeking to replicate the model. That’s where we’re different. This isn’t an offshoot of the Cleveland Clinic. This IS the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi.

I can’t express enough what an honor it is to have this opportunity. It’s not often that people get the chance to do something that’s disruptive but in a positive fashion. But we’ve been given that chance. We’re going to make things better for the people who live here. We don’t take that lightly. The goal is to leave things better than we found them, and we spend a lot of time thinking about how to help the Emirates build their healthcare structure to be the best in the world. If I do my job right, eventually the person who sits in this chair will be an Emirati. In my opinion, that would be the ultimate success.

About A. Marc Harrison, M.D.

Marc Harrison, M.D., MMM, FAAP, FCCM, is Chief Executive Officer of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Dr. Harrison joined the staff of the Children’s Hospital at the Cleveland Clinic in 1999, where he served as Medical Director of the PICU (2001-2004) and Chairman of the Department of Pediatric Critical Care (2004-2006). Dr. Harrison also served as Cleveland Clinic’s Associate Chief of Staff (2006-2009), Director of Medical Operations (2006-2009), and Chief Medical Operations Officer (2009-2011). Dr. Harrison is particularly interested in using business principles to facilitate clinical outcomes, safety, quality, operational excellence, system integration, and strategic growth.

Dr. Harrison grew Medical Operations from a team of six to more than 1,700 people and includes pharmacy, surgical operations, hospital operations, business intelligence, continuous improvement, critical care transport, systems optimization, among other functional areas.

He was also responsible for streamlining the hospital transfer process, creating a variety of clinical services, including Cleveland Clinic critical care transport and medical emergency teams, and re-vamping the day-to-day operations of many aspects of patient care. In conjunction with Finance, he has led the Cleveland Clinic’s business intelligence enterprise into a model considered the gold standard for the healthcare industry. The team sought to “Serve Patients, Optimize Operations, Drive Innovation.”

Dr. Harrison received a B.A. from Haverford College in 1986, a medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School in 1990, and a master’s in Medical Management from Carnegie Mellon University in 2007. Dr. Harrison trained in Pediatrics and Pediatric Critical Care at the University of Utah. Dr. Harrison is a Fellow of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

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