x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Experts defend UAE's health care

Doctors say UAE residents should give local medical care a chance instead of choosing overseas treatment too quickly.

UAE residents who continue to travel abroad for treatment must be made more aware of the availability of health care at home, say experts.

Although there are some gaps, the overall availability of treatments is good, they said.

Last week, the Dubai Health Authority released the results of a three-year study on the reasons why people choose overseas treatment.

Out of more than 2,000 people surveyed – both Emirati and expatriate – almost 10 per cent said they did not seek local advice before deciding to seek treatment abroad, citing lack of adequate equipment and skilled staff as their reasons.

Lack of communication between healthcare providers and patients, lack of specialist services and the length of time taken to arrange a doctor’s appointment were also listed as reasons for choosing treatment overseas.

Whether in public or private health care, all doctors must communicate efficiently with their patients, said Dr Suhail Kazim, the medical director of Medcare Hospital in Dubai.

"Quite a lot of them [patients] are not very well aware of what facilities are present inside the country," he said.

"A major part lies in the patient not being well informed ... and I do accept that there is some sort of a deficiency in the patient-doctor relationship. In order to gain that confidence it’s very important that the doctor instils that confidence in the patient who comes and visits him so that person leaves that hospital or centre convinced that he is going to the right person to carry out the treatment."

If that rapport is not established, said Dr Kazim, this can leave people feeling insecure about whether their care is in the right hands, regardless of how well-established or equipped the facility is.

But no matter how state-of-the-art healthcare in the UAE is, he said, some specialist services are sparse.

In the case of cancer patients, some post-surgery treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, are not easily available in the country, said Dr Kazim.

"They do have them available but only in Abu Dhabi or Al Ain. For many cancer patients, it becomes a bit of a hassle, actually, that quite soon after the operation they have to be going to and fro between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, so that becomes a major issue."

The relative youth of the UAE’s population means that care for certain age-related illnesses is not so much in demand, according to David Hadley, the chief executive of EHL Management Services, which operates Welcare Hospital, The City Hospital and eight other clinics in Dubai.

"In terms of lack of medical skills and lack of medical equipment, just to put that into perspective, this is a very young population," he said.

"What you find is it’s only the older population, with certain healthcare conditions, where there is not a lot of demand for healthcare services.

"I can understand people beyond the age of 60 needing interventional work or acute care would need to travel abroad, because those sort of services are not necessarily available here and probably won’t be available here for some time."

But in terms of other services, such as those relating to cardiac surgery, cancer treatment and trauma care, the entire country is more than capable, he said.

"There are some fantastic facilities, both public and private. You don’t need to go abroad for those services."

One Dubai-based senior consultant neurosurgeon did say, however, that specialists should be consulted more often by the the relevant authorities to improve gaps in service.

"It would be fundamental and extremely needed that the pertinent authorities consult and interact with and allow specialists to give their input in the developments," he said.

"Only with a true co-involvement by the official persons responsible, along with physicians such as myself, can the true potential be achieved."

zalhassani@thenational.ae