x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dear doctor, trust and communication are two-way streets

When it comes to the doctor-patient relationship, communication is key.

"Doctor knows best" is a phrase many of us have encountered, particularly in our younger years.

The idea that our physicians, due to their superior medical knowledge and expertise, should be given our trust forms the traditional patient-doctor relationship. Here the lofty practitioner is given the benefit of the doubt by the uninformed masses.

But the information age has changed the dynamics, as it has with most aspects of our lives, of this association.

The internet has provided previously uninformed patients with access to an endless amount of medical information.

No longer holding all the cards, doctors have had to shift to a more patient-centred practice where the client, rather than the provider, is presented with numerous options and the final call.

This increase in communication among the parties results in a better rapport which is vital in creating patient trust.

But too often in my experience, this essential interaction is sadly missing between UAE residents and their doctors. Many people have told me the same thing.

The absence of this crucial element unfortunately leads to serious repercussions as well as an erosion of trust, not only with specific physicians or institutions, but also the country's medical field as a whole.

My first encounter with such a communication breakdown occurred during one of my first visits to a hospital after my return to the UAE.

Feeling fortunate to now have free medical care as an Emirati, something too many of my friends lacked in the United States, I visited the doctor for a minor complaint.

Without much elaboration the doctor informed me that he could cure my simple condition with a simple procedure right then and there.

If it was simple and could be done right now, why waste any more time, I thought.

Feeling pleased with the expedience of the process, I left the hospital full of anaesthetics but devoid of any information on what was soon to come.

Once the anaesthesia began to wear off, an unexpected and excruciating pain began to set in, forcing me to retreat home promptly.

Housebound for days after, I had ample time to research my ailment and the procedure which I had just undergone.

Not only did I become aware of the recovery period and recommendations for the first time, but I also learnt that my procedure was entirely unnecessary - none of which the doctor felt obliged to share.

Hearing similar stories repeated several times by those who had instinctively put their faith in doctors, I learnt that we all came away from our ordeals less trustful of the health-care system.

This is not to say that the state of health care in the Emirates is inadequate nor that the majority of residents are unhappy with it.

Almost nine in 10 UAE residents say they are content with the availability of quality health care, which is ranked 27th in the world by the World Health Organisation.

But in a nation where 39 per cent of citizens would rather receive treatment abroad, increasing patients' awareness, providing them with alternative options, directing them to other sources of information and recommending second opinions could go a long way in developing and regaining their trust.


Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US