DUBAI // Almost 300 medical complaints have been filed so far this year but Dubai's health authority says that does not mean doctors are making more errors.
A total of 283 complaints had been received by Dubai Health Authority (DHA) by last Wednesday, although the final tally for the year is expected to top 300, said Dr Layla Al Marzouqi, the authority's head of the clinical governance.
The figure is more than double the amount in 2010 (130) and higher than last year's total of 276, but that does not indicate a rise in medical errors, she said.
"More people are becoming aware of their rights," Dr Al Marzouqi said. "DHA is enlightening people that this facility is available.
"This is all about awareness among people. It has nothing to do with the level of care."
Just under half of the complaints, 137, were deemed valid by the authority, meaning they fell into one of three categories: minor, moderate or major.
The invalid cases were usually instances that could be resolved by discussion and not all of the valid complaints were classed as malpractice.
The increase in complaints filed is also due to the growing number of healthcare centres in the emirate, said Dr Al Marzouqi.
She said that by far the most cases, 114, came from the private sector. The number of cases that went to court was not available.
Poor communication between doctor and patient, sometimes the result of a language or cultural barrier, has been cited as another of the main reasons leading to complaints.
This can also occur between medical staff, which can lead to improper documentation and an increased risk of error.
Although medical errors can and do occur, the number of complaints can be reduced if incidents are explained clearly to patients, said Dr Al Marzouqi.
"After every year we analyse the hospital complaint records," she said. "One of the hospitals has a very small number of complaints compared to other hospitals.
"When we asked why the number was low, the doctor said that whenever an error happens, he sits down and talks to the family and the doctor [responsible for the case]."
By keeping all parties informed, hospitals and clinics can reduce the number of complaints filed by patients.
Any complaints made by healthcare workers will normally be dealt with by the hospital for which they work, she added.
The authority runs education workshops in improving communication and, in some cases, will recommend that certain centres create their own guidelines.
The DHA has also put forward suggestions for changes to the federal 2008 Medical Liability law, which will help to reduce the number of errors and complaints.
"The law, as it is, is doing the work but everything needs improving. Day by day, new issues have been coming up and they should go into that law," Dr Al Marzouqi said.
In the meantime, the authority is pushing hospitals and clinics to take matters into their own hands, she added.
"We write to the facilities asking them to develop policies, for which we usually give them two to three months."
Accreditation from internationally recognised organisations is another way to improve or introduce structural changes.
"We encourage the healthcare facilities to be accredited by well-known bodies," Dr Al Marzouqi said.
"For example, Joint Commission International accreditation requires documentation, so we encourage these things."
Although the number of complaints filed has surpassed last year's total, there have been fewer people blacklisted, she said.
"In 2011, 15 people had their licences revoked. This year, nine people have had their licences revoked and they have also been blacklisted."
Although no specific examples were given, those nine people committed serious infractions, according to Dr Al Marzouqi.
"The treatment they offered to the patient was not up to the standard. The patient was harmed and the harm was [severe].
"We don't revoke licences for no reason."
Health Authority - Abu Dhabi would not provide statistics on complaints made to it.