By demanding better services, patients can improve hospitals

The standard of healthcare will only approve if citizens and residents complain through the proper channels.

Powered by automated translation

Anyone who has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past several years has no doubt witnessed the dramatic improvement in healthcare standards here.

Medical procedures that typically required trips abroad and exhausting bureaucracy can now be done in private-sector hospitals locally. Until the 1990s, patients suffered from a range of avoidable ailments, from oversized scars to severe medical problems, due to inadequate equipment or medical care.

Today, the UAE can pride itself on having some of the best medical facilities and expertise in the world after a relatively short period. In fact health care is improving nationwide and the number of private hospitals is steadily increasing.

But the high demand for medical services in a rapidly growing population has moved the challenge from a lack of facilities and expertise to an issue of supply and demand that has led some private hospitals in Abu Dhabi to decrease the quality of their services.

Often referred to as "factory lines", private-sector hospitals in the capital are being forced to treat patients quickly and sometimes insufficiently to get their next customer through the door. The queues in many private clinics, particularly paediatric clinics, spill into corridors and into other clinics, with the waiting period often exceeding six hours. Waiting times for surgery and emergency-room visits are increasing, too. Increasingly people complain of declining standards in management, customer service and response time at private hospitals despite Government efforts to ensure a high standard of patient care in all medical centres in the city. The more patients arrive, the lower the quality of service becomes.

Hospitals recognise that customers will most likely wait the full six hours since most major private hospitals in the capital will have the same wait time. As a patient, there is nowhere to go and seemingly no one to help, no matter how many times one submits complaints to hospital administration. So, patients swallow their pride, frustration and anger to get treatment.

When some of the major private hospitals in Abu Dhabi decided to expand years ago, there was hope for improvement. But hope was quashed after only a few months, when the situation went back to normal - except in nicer, more modern buildings.

Part of the problem is that healthcare providers compare themselves to each other, benchmarking their quality of services with the hospital down the road, not with best-in-class hospitals. Some of the blame rests with patients, many of whom remember Abu Dhabi's medical services offered over a decade ago, and base their expectations either on previous experiences or on other hospitals in the city whose standards have always been unacceptable.

Standards in private hospitals will remain low unless we adopt not only medical personnel and equipment but, just as importantly, management and customer service from other successful healthcare providers from around the globe that have a proven successful track record.

Until that time comes, there is another possible solution that can be provided by Emiratis and residents alike. The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has worked vigorously to improve healthcare standards over the years but it cannot succeed in this task alone. Public opinion is vital for HAAD to identify the root causes of these issues.

Yet after waiting for hours in line for doctors and pharmacists, the majority of patients can't wait to leave and rush back to work or home to recover from the miserable experience. And though many consider submitting complaints, exhaustion gets the better of us and we leave it to the next man or woman to take the trouble.

If enough patients who have negative experiences in Abu Dhabi's hospitals lodge their suggestions and complaints, that will enable HAAD to take stronger actions against providers whose standards are below international standards.

In the end, all private hospitals have to earn a profit by providing a service to their customers. The customer, in other words, is always right, so by demanding better services patients can contribute to improving the standard of private health care in Abu Dhabi.

Taryam Al Subaihi is a political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications

On Twitter: @TaryamAlSubaihi