Published On: Tue, Sep 9th, 2014

What exactly is quality health care?

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Last July, I was in Dubai for an international workshop on Health Care Financing and Innovation. The workshop, which was organised by Pharmanews in collaboration with Aster DM Healthcare, was attended by medical doctors, pharmacists and nurses.

From the analysis of the evaluation forms and comments of the participants, the workshop was very rewarding. The visit to the Aster DM facilities and the city tour made the event memorable.

Two key messages of the workshop were teamwork among the health care personnel and commitment to the welfare of the patient. Health care personnel generally were urged to respect, serve, help, encourage and exercise patience with the patient. We were challenged to learn from the service industry that does everything to provide good service to the customers or consumers.

However, one major obstacle to such admirable and patient-centered kind of care was identified as ego – the feeling of superiority and self-importance, which results in poor services to the patient. Today’s health care, as the workshop facilitators observed, demands capacity development and continuous training of personnel. Effective hospitals can no longer be managed by doctors alone. As the hospital grows, there is a need for hospital administrators, pharmacists, business managers, accountants, technologists and so on.

That aside, it was also noted that medical procedures are certainly getting more and more sophisticated; more new and complicated drugs are being developed to tackle old and emerging diseases. Hospitals are increasingly depending on sophisticated machines for their services. This implies that employment of personnel may be reducing with time. According to Rajiv Sehgal, the chief information officer for Aster DM, 85 per cent of the work of doctors will be done by machines in future.

On our way back from Dubai, I had some time at the airport, and as usual, visited bookshops. This time, one of the books I bought was “Live Life Like Never Before” by Shukla Datta. I started reading the book at the departure hall. In the process, I came across a touching story that I would like to reproduce here.

One day, a doctor entered the hospital in a hurry after being called for an urgent surgery involving a boy. He immediately went to the changing room, got ready, and went to the surgical block. He found the boy’s father restlessly walking in the hall, waiting for the doctor. On seeing doctor, the father yelled, “Why did you come so late? Don’t you know that my son’s life is in danger? Don’t you have any sense of responsibility?”

The doctor smiled and said, “I am sorry, I wasn’t in the hospital. I came as fast as I could, after receiving the call. And now, I want you to calm down, so that I can do my work.”

“Calm down?”the man asked angrily. “What if your son was facing life and death right now? If your son dies right now what would you do?”

The doctor replied with a gentle smile on his face, “I will quote from the Bible: ‘From dust we came and to dust we return.’ Doctors can’t prolong lives. Go and mediate for your son’s life; we will do our best by God’s grace.”

“Giving advice when we aren’t concerned is so easy,” mumbled the father.

The surgery took a long time, after which the doctor came out happy. “Thank goodness! Your son is saved,” he said. And without waiting for the father’s reply, he left the place as hurriedly as he came.

Minutes later, the father went to the nurse attending to the boy and asked “Why is the doctor so arrogant? He didn’t even wait, so that I could ask about my son’s condition.”

The nurse could not check her tears. Her voice was choked. She struggled for some time and then said, “His son died yesterday in a traffic accident. He was at the funeral when we called for him for your son’s surgery. And now that he saved your son’s life, he left running to finish his son’s burial.”

I do not know whether this is a true story or not, but I am sure it is not a Nigerian story. Nigeria is not a place where a patient can have the courage to yell at the doctor for coming late to work. A patient may not even be bold enough to ask for the name of the medicine prescribed for him. No patient can challenge his doctor, who is the almighty in the hospital. No doctor can be so humble as to apologise to his patient for coming late. And, definitely, no doctor in Nigeria can be so committed to his patients as to leave the burial of his own son, to rush to the hospital on call, to save another man’s son.

As I write this, doctors in government service have been on strike for several weeks, demanding improved conditions of service, while many people suffer and die for lack of medical services. The incessant attacks by Boko Haram and the Ebola outbreak are not even enough reasons to soften their hearts to save some lives.

Now, indeed, is the time to rethink the manner of care we provide in the light of the calling we claim to have received.


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What exactly is quality health care?