Lack of patient safety plagues region's healthcare

Lack of research, education and staff motivation have led to gaps in patient safety across the entire GCC, experts said yesterday.

Dr Tawfik Khoja, family physician consultant and director general of the executive board for Health Ministers Council for Cooperation Council States.
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Lack of research, education and staff motivation have led to gaps in patient safety across the entire GCC, experts said yesterday.

The safety of patients has only recently become a topic of concern, said professor Tawfik Khoja, the director general of the Executive Board of the GCC Health Ministers’ Council, who was speaking at a conference to launch the 2013 Patient Safety and Quality Congress Middle East.

“The movement for patient safety is on the agenda for GCC leaders as well as the senior-level management in the ministries of health and health institutions,” prof Khoja said.

According to the World Health Organisation, patient safety is “the absence of preventable harm to a patient during the process of health care”.

“Patient safety is becoming a community – a national – concern,” prof Khoja added.

And despite efforts to improve patient safety, progress has been slow, he said. “I think with all this movement, still, patient safety has a long way to go and it needs more commitment from all levels.”

If the situation is to improve, change must begin on the ground, with healthcare workers needing an incentive to be able to focus on improving safety, said Dr Hamed Ibrahim, the managing director of Johns Hopkins Medicine International, in Baltimore, US.

Other issues arise in GCC countries when dealing with cultural norms, said the doctors.

“Our culture doesn’t really understand and value ... research,” Dr Ibrahim said, adding that patience was key to development. “We are a culture used to wanting to yield our investment yesterday.”

In an attempt to improve patient safety, the Health Authority–Abu Dhabi (Haad) has referred to the US Institute of Medicine’s code: safety; effectiveness; having a patient-centred approach; improve time in which a patient is seen; improve efficiency and; equity – in that the level of care remains the same regardless of a patient’s gender, ethnicity, geographic location and socioeconomic status.

Instead of asking questions, patients can make assumptions, leading to altered perceptions.

Dr Sedra Al Mansouri, the acting director of Haad’s health system compliance division, said: “Patients do not talk about health care. The problem? Expectations are not matching reality. Are we safe in delivering health care? Are hospitals safe?”

Medical error is also an area for improvement, said the doctor. Common errors include medication and blood labelling mistakes.

Accreditation is one way healthcare facilities can highlight gaps that need to be worked on, said the doctor.

With dozens of hospitals in the UAE accredited by the Joint Commission International Accreditation, a division of the American-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organisation, the country is well ahead of others in the region, said Dr Al Mansouri.

By trying to attain accreditation, hospitals put the weaknesses in their system under the spotlight.