Interview: Dr Matar Al Darmaki

As demand for in-patient services continues to grow, to what extent is the sector’s expansion adequately addressing the need for additional services?

MATAR AL DARMAKI: At SEHA, we evaluate the services being offered to patients on three levels; primary, secondary and tertiary. We can then effectively determine where services need to be expanded to meet the needs of the market. To date, SEHA has more than 62 primary care centres, more than adequately meeting the basic needs of patients. For example, SEHA is developing more specialised screening centres to encourage the early detection of certain diseases with the aim of reducing the need for tertiary or specialised care.

While improvements have been achieved through the use of screening centres and subsequent early detection of disease, especially for breast cancer, there is a need for more advanced and specialised services. Together with industry stakeholders, we study where opportunities exist for new private sector entrants. If private sector involvement is not commercially viable, then either Mudabala or SEHA will be able to fill the void. This system of integration and coordination among stakeholders ensures any redundancies are avoided. Patients will find that certain unique services are only available through SEHA facilities.

Meanwhile, many basic services that patients depend on are available through private providers. Therefore, SEHA is not looking to compete with other health care providers or duplicate any services, thereby ensuring optimal sector efficiency. This approach will ensure that our overall health care system undergoes continuous evolution and develops to meet the wide range of patient services required, whether it is for basic care, specialised services or anything in between.

The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) is implementing mechanisms in clinics to help improve sector performance. How effective are these?

DARMAKI: From a top-down perspective, the regulators play an important role in facilitating the necessary infrastructure development and addressing quality assurance. HAAD’s Jawda initiative, for example, has improved the quality of health care services provided to nationals and residents in the emirate.

The new quality framework will utilise metrics and indicators to evaluate hospital performance. This will ultimately help provide a measure of how, in our case, state institutions have been performing compared to the private sector. Having a third party evaluate the system will help us determine ways to improve the quality of our services, with an emphasis on better patient outcomes. It will also address the key issues of access and the speed of service. In addition, Abu Dhabi adheres to the Joint Commission International Accreditation Standards for Hospitals and is constantly striving to meet the international quality and service standards that have been determined by the commission.

What more can be done to attract qualified professionals to the health care sector?

DARMAKI: Working and living conditions, as well as education and research, are critical factors when it comes to creating the kind of environment that would successfully attract the best talent to the health care system. However, at the same time, it is very important that we establish a system that ensures the transfer of knowledge so that we can benefit from these individuals’ unique skill set, as training nationals is vital if we are to achieve a sustainable health care sector.

For this reason, SEHA is attempting to develop the skills of the local population so that they can assume positions across the health care sector; from doctors to nurses to administrators to specialists. After all, it is one thing to import doctors and nurses, but it is equally important that a system is in place to ensure the successful transfer of knowledge. Regulation has a role to play in this regard, and the newly implemented unified licensing regulations will allow medical professionals to more easily practise in other emirates. This, in turn, will encourage a higher degree of knowledge transfer.