Prevention is the best medicine

Both doctors and patients must focus on preventive measures, such as regular screenings, if the issue of heart disease is to be addressed efficiently.

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The Ministry of Health sent out text messages this week advising the public to schedule regular medical checkups, commonsense that is often ignored. "Next time you visit a doctor," the message reads, "ask him or her about tests you may need."

The timing of these texts could not have been better. As The National reported yesterday, 27 per cent of all deaths in Abu Dhabi last year were caused by heart disease, a largely preventable ailment with regular checkups and a healthy lifestyle. The number of patients dying from heart disease in Abu Dhabi last year rose to 763, from 707.

Doctors say the numbers can be reduced if patients and hospitals focus more on preventive measures such as regular screenings, which should be integrated into the healthcare system. To get there, though, both patients and government health officials need to reorient their thinking.

Apathy is one reasons why patients shun regular checkup, but it's not the only one. As the annual report released by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad) yesterday makes clear, a shortage of specialist doctors is limiting patients from receiving the best advice.

Legally speaking, hospitals are liable if they fail to provide specialists and treatments that adhere to the best medical practices. Unfortunately, legal responsibility is not always matched by capability. We often hear stories about patients receiving a less than acceptable diagnosis at area hospitals, from missed cancers to food poisonings. Missing symptoms can have fatal results.

These stories highlight two of the major issues raised by doctors in the annual Haad study.

For one, patients are often attended to by poorly qualified staff. Specialist doctors are in critically short supply; without the best doctors, patients are left guessing. Efforts to recruit and retain doctors must be increased. Second, doctors are often guilty of rushing through even the most rudimentary tests, making misdiagnosis more common.

It goes without saying that hospitals should make every effort to ensure patients receive the right tests at the right time by the right doctors. But it is also the responsibility of every one of us to schedule periodic examinations. As the health ministry suggested with its text messaging campaign this week, it is patients who have the final word on their health.