x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Preventive treatment 'should be insured'

Preventative health care is often limited to those who are affluent and it is realm of the rich, medical experts say.

Doctors say that while personalised preventive care has significant benefits, the current model restricts access to the more affluent segments of society.

"You need to have patients with high incomes and willing to pay from their own pocket because it's not covered by insurance," said Dr Prakash Pania, an endocrinologist at Aster Medical Centre in Dubai.

"If you can afford it, yes it's great, but the truth is not everyone can."

Dr Pania said insurance companies operated as a "paradox".

"If we tell the insurance companies we need to screen someone for diabetes, they will not cover the cost," he said.

"But if the patient develops diabetes, then the insurance company will start paying and spend a lot more on the treatment than the simple amount it would have cost them for prevention.

"Someone at a government level should set guidelines to make prevention more accessible."

Markus Giebel, chief executive of Eternity Medicine Institute, said his clinic hoped insurance companies would cover its services once they see the numbers.

"Two or three years down the road, when we show them the thousands of patients we have and the trends upwards in terms of health improvement, that's going to be a good argument for us," Mr Giebel said.

Dr Gilbert Burjeily, a specialist in internal medicine and anti-ageing at Emirates Hospital, said insurance companies would sometimes pay for screenings if a diagnosis could be made from the test results.

But regardless of who is paying, observations show that people who engage in prevention have a longer life span and better quality of life, Dr Burjeily said.

"We can change their lifestyles to prevent them from ever getting the disease."

Patients should not have to go out of their way to get personalised care, but a lack of continuity in treatment restricts their options, experts said.

A lack of a primary healthcare culture means patients often jump from doctor to doctor, leaving none with a complete history.

"We need a primary-care model in which a physician makes a clinical judgment and determines the long-term support a patient needs," said Dr Abdul Jabbar, a consultant endocrinologist at Medcare Hospital.

"The doctor should have constant communication with the patient and develop a life plan."

However, even the specialists are finding that relationships with patients can be difficult to sustain over a long term.

"This kind of personalised care should happen anyway," Dr Pania said. "The patient shouldn't have to pay more to receive it.

"The doctor should know how to communicate with the patient so that the repeat value increases."

But Dr Jabbar said it was always easy to "blame the patient" for moving around, but the onus lay with doctors.

"If the doctor is able to satisfy or win the patient, then the patient will not go somewhere else," he said.