Muscat: Oman needs an independent medical watchdog to improve regulation and accountability to ensure that the medical staff delivers top quality care in both government and private hospitals.
A medical watchdog, if established, would not only represent the rights of the patients but the overall working conditions of the medical staff. The complaints, which may well be contributing to the under-performance of our hospitals, include those about inadequate facilities, fewer doctors and nurses. The fact that no major hospitals have been built in the last 20 years has resulted in a situation where a far larger number of patients are being treated in the same number of medical institutions.
The watchdog would also provide a second opinion about the legitimacy of international accreditation our hospitals receive or how credible are the medical audits that are conducted. Based on the experience of other countries, we know that some of the medical accreditations that are being awarded are just ceremonious and designed to fulfil official requirements rather than adhere to strict quality. On the other hand, clinical audits must be properly monitored to reflect the actual practice in our hospitals and should not be just a glorification of existing standards.
The watchdog will inspire confidence among patients when they will be able to access the hospital audit. The official statistics show that about 27 per cent of the patients who consulted local doctors were not satisfied with either the diagnosis or the line of treatment. They fly abroad for a second opinion in foreign hospitals. There is a good chance the number will keep rising every year.
Why is that?
Because they need to be assured that the practices of all the medical staff are being scrutinised and doctors are made accountable when they go wrong. They also have reasonable doubts and that they can receive better medical attention somewhere else.
Having said that, we know a big percentage of our doctors are well qualified to do their jobs but we can never say there was never a mistake or rule out an occasional botched up operation. When it happens, the patients or their families should be encouraged to sue the hospital in question. It is their civil liberty. Denying them this right or intimidating them by using the bureaucratic muscle, gives victories to bad doctors and the legacy would continue. The health sector is a fast moving one. Since medical breakthroughs happen worldwide all the time, patients need to be assured that Oman is not being left behind. As we move forward with our own economic development, we attract a large number of experts who come here to help the country progress further.
One of the attractions for an international expert moving here is the assurance that he would receive top quality medical attention while he is working in the country. A good financial package is not enough. Good hospitals with a high degree of professionalism attract the best brains, knowing they would be taken care of when they fall sick.
The watchdog will also have access to medical records to make sure that there are no murmurs later on about doctors have little time for their patients. The watchdog would also know that the ratio of patients to beds in Oman is approximately about 1,000 to 1. It would also help to calm fears about hospitals allegedly prescribing too many antibiotics or giving wrong medicines to unsuspecting patients. The watchdog would work with the government to conduct reality checks to make sure that all hospitals conform to best medical practices as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The government must be able to reap the best benefits from the OMR1.3 billion allocated this year for the health sector. The medical staff must justify that sizeable investment by giving back nothing but top quality service. That would simply mean greater patient safety. But the members of the medical watchdog should not be government appointed but professionals who can monitor the situation without fear of reprisal.
According to statistics, patients' visits to outpatient clinics in the government institutions during 2012 were about 13.3 million. It clearly shows how easy it is for doctors to make mistakes when you have just 7,000 doctors in the country treating millions of patients a year.
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