ABU DHABI // More than 80 per cent of residents are pleased with the treatment they receive at hospitals, a significant increase on previous years, according to a survey on patient satisfaction.
A total of 34,200 hospital patients throughout Abu Dhabi were interviewed for the study, which was commissioned to help the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad) monitor and improve services.
Hospitals were split into three regions: eastern (Al Ain), western and Abu Dhabi city. Some of the individual hospitals from each region were also given ratings.
Al Ain hospitals were the most successful, with 84 per cent of patients giving a positive response.
"We've focused on making the patient's experience less traumatic by improving the parking situation dramatically," said Dr Riad Abdelkarim, the chief medical officer at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain.
"We have given significant priority parking to patients and we've also taken steps to address the access needs to our clinics by implementing Saturday clinics."
But communication remains poor at the hospital, according to the survey. Dr Abdelkarim said that was key because "it can alter the perception of the patient regarding their care".
He said more focus had been put on improving customer service in the past couple of years in Al Ain, from the top management to the front-line staff.
Interactions with doctors and nurses were factors patients valued most, the study showed.
Prof Gerhard Schwab, the medical director of Al Ain Hospital, which had an overall patient satisfaction rate of 84 per cent, said: "You must remember the patient is a human being."
Some 84 and 81 per cent expressed their contentment with Abu Dhabi and the Western Region hospitals.
Many complaints were made in previous years about waiting times at the Corniche Hospital, which this time had an 87 per cent rate of patient satisfaction.
"It's still not really where the end result needs to be," said Ronald Lavater, the chief executive of the hospital. "We're still working on it and we still have opportunities to reduce our waiting times further."
Common factors that determine customer satisfaction were waiting times, ease of access, critical care and communication with the patient in a way that respects their clinical needs.
"We've looked at every aspect of a patient's experience within the hospital," said Mr Lavater. "And we're now trying to focus things on the patient - how doctors interact with him, the way the facility is organised - to put him in the centre."
He said the hospital was looking at hiring more staff, expanding parking and reducing paperwork. Free valet parking has been introduced at Corniche Hospital.
Dr Nabil Debouni, the medical director at Lifeline Hospital in Abu Dhabi, which had a rate of 85 per cent customer satisfaction, said to a patient, good care means feeling safe.
"There are six safety goals that all hospitals should implement and in that sense, the patient can feel that he is being taken care of," Dr Debouni said.
Those goals include proper communication, safe medication and proper checking of identification.
All 37 hospitals in the emirate took part in the survey, which Haad said would be conducted annually.
"This will aid the patients in their choice of healthcare facility for their own care and their families," said Tammy Donnelly, the director of Haad's corporate performance and operations division. But patients cited additional factors for improvement, including waiting times and the process for being discharged.
Although no statistics were provided in the study, hospitals in the Western Region were shown as particularly weak in courtesy and friendliness. Five out of seven hospitals, including Al Mirfa and Al Wagan, had the lowest ratings in terms of friendly medical staff.
Outpatients complained most about a lack of proper communication from medical staff in 11 hospitals such as SKMC (psychiatrics), Lifeline Day Care and Al Reef International.
The time medical staff spent with patients was also deemed insufficient for 13 hospitals, including Al Ahalia and Al Tawam. Outpatients also cited inadequate parking facilities at 13 hospitals and uncomfortable waiting areas in 12.
A YouGovSiraj survey commissioned by The National in 2009 found very different results, with seven of 10 respondents claiming they would rather go abroad for medical treatment.
"Although HAAD has worked to improve the services allowing patients to stay in the UAE for their care, many still prefer to travel abroad for medical treatment," said Ms Donnelly.
Haad is working on incorporating the patient satisfaction measures with other healthcare indicators to develop a quality ratings system.