Calls for group to bridge the doctor-patient gap

Advocacy group could help patients stand up for their rights and get better treatment.

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ABU DHABI // An advocacy group could help patients to voice their concerns, according to senior health officials and doctors.

While a number of patient-support groups exist, there is no formal group where patient advocates could sit on the board of a hospital or health authority.

However, health chiefs said such a group could help further bridge the gap between patients and decision-makers.

"We would definitely be open to it," said Dr Amin Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary for medical practices and licensing at the Ministry of Health.

"It could be a group linked to the consumer protection department and would certainly help represent the patient community."

Federal laws on medical responsibilities and against malpractice outline the ethical conduct of health-care professionals and patient rights. However, part of the problem, doctors warn, is that many patients are not aware of their rights.

"I get patients who may have seen someone else and when I ask them to get the records from their previous doctor, they start asking if they can actually do that," said Dr Imad Nakad, the chief executive of the American Surge Centre in Abu Dhabi.

"Patients don't know that the medical record belongs to them and it's their choice if they want to get a second or third opinion … it's part of the cultural thinking and not having informed knowledge about what you can and can't do."

Problems are most likely to occur when uninformed patients interact with unscrupulous doctors. "A patient with mediocre knowledge may accept whatever the physician tells them," Dr Nakad said. "The physician can take this for granted, and feed on that patient's lack of knowledge."

Some hospitals have launched their own support groups, such as Angels of Mercy, a cancer support group at Tawam Hospital. Others operate outside hospitals, including Friends of Cancer Patients and the Emirates Arthritis Foundation.

Susan Michael, a patient advocate with the foundation, is passing on her experience to others. The Australian had been living with pain from undiagnosed rheumatoid arthritis for nearly 12 years.

"Doctors weren't hearing what I was saying," she said. "Some told me it was menopause and that I just needed to toughen up."

Doctors finally diagnosed the condition early last year. Ms Michael met with Dr Humeira Badsha, a rheumatologist and vice chairperson of the foundation. She learnt that modifications in her diet could help relieve her pain.

"Some doctors insist that you have to take the medicine and that's it, when in fact there might be other options," she said.

"At the end of the day your doctor is your doctor, but the best thing anybody can do is to get together and talk to others who can relate."