Interview: Dr Maha Barakat
What is being done to address capacity gaps?
MAHA BARAKAT: Improving the availability and access to a full spectrum of health care services across the entire emirate is a key priority. We have developed both the “Health Statistics” reports and the Capacity Master Plan, which use data to identify capacity gaps, enabling us to determine how best to fill them – be it through private or public sector investment – and avoid any duplication of efforts. Ultimately, this will minimise the need for patients to seek medical treatment abroad, which has a significant financial impact, as well as improve access to care in rural areas. Currently under-serviced areas include intensive and critical care medicine, emergency care, neonatology, paediatrics, oncology, orthopaedics, rehabilitation and psychiatry. Sub-specialty gaps also exist in paediatrics and paediatric surgery, as well as adult sub-specialties like neurosurgery, plastics and surgical oncology. It is imperative that we are transparent about what services are lacking in order to encourage investors to participate in those areas.
How will the newly implemented evaluation system for health centres and clinics assure quality?
BARAKAT: Advancing the quality of health care is one of seven key priorities we have identified as part of our long-term strategy for improving health care services. “Jawda” is a specific initiative we launched that will provide a detailed assessment of the performance of health care facilities using a variety of specific metrics and indicators. Quality outcomes can then be analysed, validated and benchmarked to determine and improve the service delivery level of health care facilities.
Performance rankings will then be released to the public to incentivise and encourage improved standards, given that there is a reputational risk involved. In addition, the evaluation can be linked to other incentives and disciplinary measures, which will allow HAAD to be much more proactive in addressing and preventing medical error. Initially, the initiative will only apply to hospitals, but it will be expanded to cover all types of facilities, including clinics and pharmacies. The number of metrics is also going to be increased, to nearly 200. The ability to objectively evaluate the quality and safety of health care providers will raise the overall quality standards and improve patient outcomes.
Another important element in elevating the quality of care is the implementation of initiatives to attract, train and retain medical professionals, with a specific focus on increasing the number of Emiratis in the sector. Currently, there is high medical staff turnover and few Emirati physicians and nurses. This must be addressed if we are to create a sustainable industry. We are working with institutions like SEHA, Tawteen Council and the Higher Colleges of Technology to develop programmes with this aim. UAE University already has a medical school in Al Ain and Khalifa University is planning to establish one as well. Sheikha Fatima College of Health Sciences has expanded to offer programmes in fields including nursing, pharmacy and paramedics.
Is the adoption of enhanced IT systems improving patient safety and cost-effectiveness?
BARAKAT: So much of what we want to achieve through our health care sector strategic plan for the emirate over the next five years will rely on the analysis and dissemination of data, whether it concerns improving access to care, quality of services, workforce, emergency preparedness, wellness and disease prevention, or cost-effectiveness. In a very short period of time Abu Dhabi has evolved to the point of 100% compliance with an e-claims system, ensuring that all patient interactions with health care providers are recorded electronically.
We are still optimising and fine-tuning the system, with the most recent changes including the introduction of diagnosis-related groups for coding of in-patient services. However, the continued enhancement of our health care informatics and e-health platform will enable the further exchange of data among providers, which will then give us the ability to continue achieving our goals on our specified priority areas of focus.
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