The UAE is blessed with world-class medical facilities. But the human aspect of medical care, as The National reported yesterday, can sometimes be more complex to navigate. With people of so many different cultures living together, there are often communication problems between doctors and patients, with possible life-threatening consequences. Different cultures have different customs and expectations, which need to be understood and correctly interpreted by physicians.
Some doctors can be abrupt or aloof, not giving patients enough information at what can be a bewildering and frightening time.
This is not a one-way issue, however. Cultural matters also affect the way patients respond to doctors' questions. Explaining this point, Dr Janeta Atanassova, a Bulgarian gynaecologist, told this newspaper: "Arab patients don't say anything because they're afraid they're going to be judged since they've been brought up being told that this is something wrong. This makes it more difficult for us, because they may be withholding information that can help us with their diagnosis."
Patients may not understand why doctors are asking personal questions, or may demand relatives are in the room for examinations.
It is a serious problem: more than 60 per cent of the complaints accepted by the Dubai Health Authority last year involved communication failures. From this perspective, the suggestion mooted by senior health officials on creating an advocacy group that can help to bridge the gap between patients and decision-makers is welcome.
Patient advocates could better inform patients of their rights, while also helping hospitals understand how to provide better care.
As well as addressing the issue of communication, an effective way to tackle this situation could be to conduct orientation courses on different nationalities and cultures for doctors, which will go a long way in promoting understanding.
Such courses need not be long, but could be part of a doctor's training either in-country or part of the accreditation process for doctors who qualified abroad.
Medical treatment is so much more than medical care. The best doctors understand that a winning bedside manner can help patients feel comfortable, safe and heal better.