DUBAI // AA's decision to take up a personalised healthcare programme may have saved his life.
The Saudi national is one of hundreds of people in the UAE who are prepared to pay the hefty fees for such programmes, and for him it was well worth it.
AA, 48, went for a comprehensive screening as part of his policy at Eternity Medicine Institute. Using a low-radiation, full-body scan, doctors found a small mass in his left kidney.
After having it removed, he was told by his nephrologist that he had a two-centimetre tumour. The cancer had not spread and was removed cleanly because of the early detection.
"The doctor was surprised," said AA. "He said he's never seen anyone discover the cancer that early. Essentially, this check-up saved my life."
He had signed up for Eternity's age-management programme, the first in the UAE outside of hospitals, as a preventive measure.
"I'm approaching 50 and I wanted to make sure that I continued living a healthy life," he said.
In less than a year since it opened, the institute has registered 500 clients, with 40 more every month.
But the service comes at a cost. The standard age-management programme costs Dh11,999 for the initial screening, and the elite programme is Dh39,999. Neither is covered by insurance.
Twelve per cent of the patients have signed up for the elite package.
AA is concerned that such services are only available to those who can afford it. "This should be accessible to everyone, at least those with high risk," he said. "Ultimately, it really is about life and death."
The fee covers a comprehensive series of tests, in which more than 100 health indicators are measured. They include a full-body scan using an ultra-low radiation scanner, brain screening, nutritional analysis, hormone analysis and risk assessment for heart attack and stroke.
The information is compiled into a report physicians present to patients two weeks later. A health programme is prescribed, and can involve lifestyle modification or supplements.
Two to three months later, the tests are repeated to measure progress, followed by another consultation.
A basic follow-up test is then prescribed at intervals of between four and six months, costing Dh3,399 for the age-management plan and Dh2,899 for the elite.
Patients can choose to have more tests for extra fees.
Doctors monitor patients' progress and meet them throughout the term of the one-year plan.
The main benefit is the relationship the doctor builds with the client, said Markus Giebel, chief executive of Eternity Medicine Institute.
"Some people stop at the tests; this is actually where we begin," Mr Giebel said. "Each and every programme is tailor-made according to the client's needs. Our software will also monitor you. If you don't come when you're supposed to you will get a call from us. If you run out of medicine our software will know and you will get a call from us."
A similar, less comprehensive programme is offered at Emirates Hospital and has about 600 members in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The initial assessment, which involves a full body ultrasound, nutritional analysis, measurement of hormone levels and toxicology screening, costs Dh1,500.
Personalised healthcare is gaining popularity in the developed world.
In the US, where primary-care doctors spend on average less than eight minutes with patients, there has been a niche market for more than a decade.
MDVIP, the largest organisation in the US providing "concierge medicine services", which offer patients 24-hour access to physicians, has more than 200,000 members.
Members pay an annual fee that includes a comprehensive check-up for cardiac health, diabetes, metabolism, mental health, nutrition and fitness. Patients are then assigned a plan and charged accordingly.
"It's not about the number of years, but the quality of life for that individual," said Mark Murrison, president of MDVIP.
Eternity does not offer concierge medicine, but plans to in the future.
Dr Graham Simpson, Eternity's co-founder and chief medical officer, said education about factors that cause disease and controlling those factors early is key to protecting lives.
"I really believe mothers hold the key to the health of the Arab world, because it's the mothers who control what goes on in the kitchen," Dr Simpson said.
"It's one thing to pay for an age-management programme, but prevention should be done in the home."