Interview: Mohammed Sultan Al Hameli
To what extent have regulatory obstacles been removed in order to streamline licensing? What more can be done in this regard?
MOHAMMED SULTAN AL HAMELI: Initially, the licensing process was intentionally developed to be stringent, as we wanted to ensure that we constructed a solid foundation on which to build a strong health care sector. As a result it would often take a considerable amount of time for a physician to be granted a licence or for a health care facility to receive the necessary permits and approvals. However, going forward, we recognise the importance of streamlining the licensing and recruitment process to stimulate private sector investment. That is why we now provide exemptions from having to be re-examined to doctors who have passed their medical boards in countries with a strong medical history. We have also enhanced our online database of candidates who have passed our computer-based examinations and have made it accessible to all health care facilities. We have also focused attention on improving the means by which the private sector can secure funding. Health care facilities require considerable capital outlays, but banks have been reluctant to lend without the transfer of a title deed. So, we have made a concerted effort to ensure that the land acquisition process includes the issuance of this integral document. By reducing regulatory obstacles we can create a more conducive environment for investment. This is extremely important, as we want private enterprises to play an increasingly larger role in the sector. More specifically, we feel there is an opportunity for them to provide specialised services, as well as to consolidate what is a somewhat fragmented industry. To date, private investment in the medical segment has been steady, but we anticipate that to increase greatly.
How are you addressing the rising cost of insurance premiums caused by provider irregularities?
AL HAMELI: Transitioning to a mandatory health care insurance structure is not an easy process. It requires the continuous development of systems that govern the industry. Escalating premiums are due to misuse of those systems and are something we want to reduce. Therefore, we have initiated an extensive programme whereby we utilise advanced IT platforms in the form of an e-billing system. This clearly identifies where abuses are taking place and acts as a deterrent for anyone trying to take advantage of the system. Not only will this ultimately ensure that premiums remain affordable for the end user, but also has the added benefit of improving patient safety. For example, we have started a pilot programme with pharmacies whereby IT systems monitor the amount of medication individuals request and are in possession of. Thereby, fraudulent activity can be identified immediately as well as any unhealthy combinations of drugs that pose a threat to an individual’s health. The further adoption of enhanced IT systems is very much part of our strategy as it will improve patient safety and cost-effectiveness.
To what extent can management contracts with international institutions support the development of local talent and improve overall turnover rates?
AL HAMELI: An increased national presence within the health care sector is imperative for the development of a sustainable industry. Patient confidence is dependent on familiarity and trust. With most foreign health care professionals staying in the country for just three to five years, patient confidence is eroded. As of now the rate of nationals pursuing careers in the medical profession remains very low. Dedicated programmes that include residency matching and scholarships are being pursued. Additionally, partnerships between internationally managed hospitals and universities are providing hands-on training as a means to develop local talent. However, the emphasis should be placed on encouraging the interest of our young population in the sciences. We must generate interest at a very early age to increase the number of high school graduates who opt to pursue a career in the medical field.
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