Above the age of 30, it is advisory to do a health test once a year, believe some doctors. When your family has a history of a certain disease, you might want to screen this particular part of your health more regularly.
“It is a different approach to health," says Alex Ionides, Chief Operating Officer at Eternity Medicine Institute. People started doing health screenings a couple of years ago. They realised they wanted to have that part of their lives covered. They want to know where they stand."
In the UAE, health screening tests are offered along a wide range of healthcare facilities. People who are eager to know the status of their health at least once a year can shop around, and opt for different services, in different price categories.
"We offer a very comprehensive health test. This test distinguishes itself in that it applies a high number of biomarkers; 250 in case of the most comprehensive test. By applying the right mix of these biomarkers, we can produce a comprehensive report of your health," explains Alex.
However, the more comprehensive the test, the higher is the price you pay for being screened. At Eternity Medicine Institute, different packages are offered. The Elite AM Screening, which offers the most inclusive list of lab tests, costs Dh39,999. The more popular AM Screening sells for Dh11,999.
“These prices are based on the equipment that we use, doctors that we have, staff that facilitates the process. Also we send the results to the US, where our head office is located. It is part of a non-traditional healthcare model,” says Alex when asked why the costs
are so high.
Although these packages are priced on the higher end, other health screening tests easily run into the multiple thousands too, cheap options being packages sold for Dh4,000.
"People are able to fit this into their annual budget, as it is mostly something people do once a year," says Alex, admitting that the region is a suitable market for health screening services considering the level of wealth. However, for many people spending such an amount of money is unlikely, and often people look for the same services to other countries, where the rate for health screenings lies much lower.
“I think people are not used to pay for health services, because healthcare is mostly covered by insurance. Health screening is not, and I do not think it will be in the future, this is unrealistic to expect. This is a complete different approach to health,” says Alex.
Apart from the price tag, question marks are raised over the necessity of such tests, as they form only a snapshot of your health at that particular time. For Neesha Kapoor, an Indian resident of Dubai, experience changed her mind for good.
"I lost my father and my aunt to cancer. Both of them had done a complete health screening just a little while before they were diagnosed with cancer, but no trace of cancerous cells were seen when the tests were done."
"My dad was diagnosed with cancer three months after he had done a health screening, which concluded that he was clear of any risks. When he was diagnosed with the disease, the cancer was already in the last stage and could not be cured.
“Because of this lesson learnt I took my aunt for a health screening and asked for all possible tests that could be done to detect cancer if it were to be there. She was clear of any risk according to the test. But this time cancer was diagnosed within a month from the test,
again in the last stage," she says.
"When we detect cancer, it is hard to say how long it has been in the body, but it usually is a long process and does not make that quick a journey," Alex says. “At least once a month we detect cancer at a non-early stage; we have about 80 customers in a good month.
"However, if and how often you want to do a health screening is a very personal choice,” says Alex. “If you feel that something is wrong, or you have a history of a disease running in your family you might want to be more secure and do the screening more often."
According to Alex most people start thinking about health screening after they have fallen ill, or have seen somebody else fall ill. People do not always think about their health in this way. But once they experienced an illness they get scared, and they want to be more secure."
Heart diseases and diabetes are the two most commonly detected diseases at Eternity Medicine Institute. "Every month, we uncover several instances of life-threatening diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
“Two out of ten people we screen are diagnosed to be in the red flag zone of developing a heart disease. Although this is usually a condition prevalent among adults, we see teenagers with calcium scores that indicate the start of a heart disease,” says Alex.
Regular health screening could lead to early detention of such diseases, which should then be followed up with drastic lifestyle changes, Alex explains. But to say that health screening could lead to a decrease in the prevalence is a step too far.
“People need to change their lifestyle first. We are here to detect the disease.”
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