OBG talks to Saif Al Qubaisi, Chairman, Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA)

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Interview: Saif Al Qubaisi

How would you describe the landscape for primary, secondary and tertiary health care? Is there a greater need for medical screening and prevention?

SAIF AL QUBAISI: We have a young population. Many of the health problems that arise with age are not as prevalent here because so many people are under 30 years old. This demographic structure makes primary care one of our most significant opportunities. The majority of our 5m patient encounters are through outpatient clinics with Ambulatory Health care Services, our satellite clinics attached to our acute care hospitals or emergency rooms. While many of these patients fall into the category of secondary care, in that they have chronic conditions requiring continual check-ups and followups – such as diabetes – they are not so ill as to require hospitalisation or tertiary care.

In terms of medical screening, we do all the medical exams for the government for expatriate workers and that screening is catalogued by Health Authority – Abu Dhabi (HAAD). Insurance companies gather this information and use it to help set rates based on demographics and statistical data. For example, we already know that our incidence of diabetes is too high. Therefore, patient education is critical, especially for young people. We work very hard to help patients understand health conditions and how better living habits can reduce their chances of requiring medical intervention.

What steps need to be taken to develop soft infrastructure for the local health industry to keep pace with the significant investments being made?

AL QUBAISI: Emiratisation, education, effective recruiting and a more streamlined licensing process are the keys to our soft infrastructure development.

Emiratisation is the most important component, but our goal is to encourage Emiratis to enter the health care field and to make Emiratisation in the health sector a reality; many steps are currently being taken in this regard. Placements and trainings in our hospitals are being introduced as an important part of this transition. We at SEHA have hundreds of clinical jobs opening every month that pay well, offer good benefits, job security and advancement prospects, and we continue to support Emiratis to take advantage of these opportunities. We must educate the public regarding these opportunities, and encourage young people in particular to see the future the health industry offers.

Certainly, recruitment is a challenge everywhere in the world; even the US, UK and Germany are recruiting foreign professionals to help them meet their health care needs. We have a challenge too in this area but are meeting our targets. Licensing of medical professionals is under the purview of the government and HAAD, and they are working to ensure that only qualified personnel are licensed to work in the emirate.

How are technology and telemedicine being used in the health care system in Abu Dhabi?

AL QUBAISI: SEHA is the only large-scale public health care system in the Middle East and North Africa with a fully linked, online medical records system. A SEHA customer or patient visiting any of our hospitals or clinics in Abu Dhabi will have their medical records accessible online to authorised SEHA personnel.

For example, if a patient that lives in Abu Dhabi City and who keeps his or her health records at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City becomes ill during a weekend in Al Gharbia, the records are available in any SEHA location. These records show what the patient’s most recent tests are, the doctor’s last notes and the most recent x-rays. This is known as e-medicine.

We are also using more traditional forms of e-medicine internally, especially in Al Gharbia. It is a huge region, so it is not feasible to have specialists in every location. As a result, we use telemedicine to deliver services to locations that need specialist medicine, but lack the staff to deliver it. We have the ability to monitor cardiac patients, watch their progress, consult on x-rays and review test results in real time remotely. This has helped deliver care locally, and is increasingly effective.

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