Oman: Higher health standards

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Increased levels of public-private cooperation are likely to bring high-tech solutions and better practices to Oman’s health care sector, particularly with regard to increasing ethical standards and monitoring insurance providers.

Oman’s health care system has undergone an impressive transformation over the past four decades. The first real development planning began in 1976, with a series of three, five-year plans that laid the foundations for the country’s modern health care infrastructure. Later plans created better systems for planning, decentralisation and specialisation in the field.

Basic indicators show that these strategies have worked: between 1980 and 2009, average life expectancy increased from 57.5 years to 72.7 years and infant mortality decreased by 85%, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health (MoH). Such advancements were largely due to expanded immunisation and specialised health programmes targeting illnesses such as tuberculosis, malaria and childhood respiratory diseases.

In spite of this progress, however, members of both public and private institutions see room for growth, particularly in the areas of technology usage and government regulation.

Speaking at the “Oman Health – Health Care Expansion Summit” in Muscat on September 26, Michael Sheldon, the country manager for Muscat Private Hospital, said additional cooperation between the government and the private sector will be necessary to improve industry quality.

Sheldon said there should be more shared use of facilities, which would lead to capital savings and efficient utilisation of resources. Joint training programmes and the transfer of knowledge and technology would also benefit both the public and private sectors and would reduce waiting lists at MoH hospitals, according to Sheldon.

Increased government regulation is necessary for the development of an effective health care sector, according to M A Mohamed, the CEO of GCC KIMS Hospitals and the managing director of KIMS Oman Hospital. “These days insurance companies decide what to do, how to investigate and how to prescribe,” he said at the summit. “This is definitely a bad trend. Insurance policies should be streamlined and they should also be monitored by the authorities.”

Mohamed said another major challenge for the industry was the overcharging of patients and the prescription of unnecessary tests and services. This can be countered with higher levels of transparency and a more comprehensive government framework for industry regulation, he said.

The accreditation of more facilities will be key in addressing such industry problems and laying out a more comprehensive set of guidelines for health care institutions and firms to follow. The minister of health, Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Saeedi, said the MoH will take several steps towards accrediting facilities and systems in the country in the coming month. He said the ministry and a number of private Omani companies will meet this month with the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, an independent organisation that provides health guidance, and the Standard Setting Department of the Royal College of Physicians, which is responsible for monitoring and implementing patient care standards in the UK. “We will be modifying what is practised in the UK to suit our set-up here,” Al Saeedi said.

Many speakers at the summit said that the improvement of medical technology will also be crucial to the advancement of the system. John Dalli, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy and a keynote speaker, highlighted the importance of developing e-health initiatives, which help in making health care more accessible to patients and medical professionals alike through the use of electronic health records, telemedicine and mobile recordkeeping devices.

A stronger e-health foundation could help patients to better coordinate appointments and improve primary and preventative care, resulting in fewer hospital visits and more effective treatments.

“I believe e-health promises enormous benefits for patients, society and for the wider economy,” Dalli said. “E-health can provide better health care to more people in a more efficient way.”

The Sultanate’s health care sector has already made substantial progress. “The sector has developed significantly,” Dr. Qasem Al Salmi, the director-general of Royal Hospital, one of four national hospitals, told OBG “Not that long ago, we would send children requiring open-heart surgeries abroad. Now we do it in Oman.”

The increasing quality and level of care available shows that further development will remain a priority for both public and private sector players.

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