Dubai hospitals are told to streamline complaints

Private and public hospitals, clinics and health centres in Dubai have been set strict time limits to deal with complaints from patients.

DUBAI // Private and public hospitals, clinics and health centres in Dubai have been set strict time limits to deal with complaints from patients. The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has recently streamlined its complaints procedure. It set out details of the process at a workshop last week. The system will classify medical malpractice or medical negligence cases as "minor, moderate or major", according to Dr Layla al Marzouqi, the DHA's head of clinical governance.

"We want to ensure that swift action is taken, and also ensure transparency and fair judgement," she said. Hospitals or health clinics should resolve minor cases within a maximum of 10 days. The facility should then inform the DHA if further action is required. "Moderate" cases will be investigated by a "peer review group", while a committee will be formed to investigate major cases. Both the peer review group and the committee will consist of doctors who specialise in the same field but are not part of the facility under review.

Complaints against government hospitals will be investigated by doctors from private facilities and vice versa. "The committees and peer group reviews are unbiased groups," said Dr al Marzouqi. "This process is crucial for transparency and fair judgement. We will involve as many unbiased doctors as we can from places as far reaching as Ajman, if necessary." Committees and peer groups will examine the medical file and take testimonials from patients, doctors and staff before presenting their decision to the DHA.

The facility will be required to provide a single contact person to liaise with the DHA regarding the complaint. Although no time limit has been set for moderate and major cases, Dr al Marzouqi stressed that the process has to occur quickly. "It used to take us a long time to process complaints, sometimes years, which is normal internationally as well," she said. The new system will process complaints within "three or four months" at the most.

Moderate and major cases cannot be set specific time limits because investigators need time to be diligent, Dr al Marzouqi said. "This is people's lives we are dealing with," she said. Based on the result of the investigation, the DHA can take action from a simple warning to revoking the licence of the doctor or clinic. "We will monitor everything, including the decisions made when investigating a minor claim," said Dr al Marzouqi.

The complainant will have a maximum of 15 days to file an appeal against any decision. "Every patient and doctor has a right to complain if they are unsatisfied with the level of service provided, and anyone can file a complaint against the hospital or the medical practitioner," she said. Dr Alya Ahmad, a paediatrician at City Hospital in Dubai, welcomed the news of a faster complaints process. "Complaints are an expectation in our profession," she said. "But they have to be dealt with quickly, whether a doctor is guilty or not.

"If the doctor is guilty, he has to be made to pay the price and kept from harming others, and if the complaint has no basis, the doctor needs to get back to doing the job as soon as possible." hkhalaf@thenational.ae