Jul. 12, 2021


Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari

Qatar

Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari

Minister of Public Health,

The Ministry of Health's new virtual and telemedicine services that were established as a result of COVID-19 have been so successful that it is considering delivering these services even after the pandemic is over.

BIO

Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari was appointed Minister of Public Health in 2016. She is also Managing Director of Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), a position she has held since 2007. She joined HMC's Women's Hospital in 1996 and rose through the ranks to become director of the Women's Hospital in 2003, assistant managing director of operations in 2005, and finally managing director of HMC in 2007. She is also chairperson of the Qatar Biobank board of directors as well as the Academic Health System International Advisory Board. She is a member of the Sidra board of governors and the board of directors of the Qatar Foundation for Social Work. She holds a PhD in healthcare management from Brunel University.


Qatar's healthcare system has made enormous progress in recent years. How has this benefitted Qatar throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?

Qatar's healthcare sector has undergone a remarkable transformation throughout the last decade. In the public sector alone, we opened 10 new hospitals and eight new primary health centers between 2010 and 2019, significantly boosting capacity across the system. As well as expanding capacity, we have also seen tremendous improvements in the quality of care we provide to our patients, which has been formally recognized on multiple occasions through prestigious international accreditations. Another significant area of development has been our workforce. We have placed great importance on building a strong, highly skilled team of healthcare professionals across the system to lead the delivery of high-quality care to Qatar's population. These improvements in recent years meant the healthcare system was in a strong position to cope with the unprecedented pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How has the healthcare sector dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in relation to priority population groups?

The entire healthcare sector has played an important role in Qatar's comprehensive measures to protect its population from COVID-19. There are three key focus areas of our strategy that have been central to the healthcare sector's COVID-19 strategy: capacity expansion; a proactive testing strategy; and protecting the most vulnerable. We significantly expanded our hospital capacity to ensure every patient with COVID-19 has been able to receive the care they need without delay. This expansion saw our bed capacity increase from 2,250 beds to a potential maximum 3,500 hospital beds and a three-fold increase in our intensive care capacity. Our proactive testing strategy enabled us to rapidly identify positive cases and ensure they were provided with the medical care they need at an early stage, before their symptoms worsen. A vital factor in maintaining a low COVID-19 death rate has been the way in which we have protected the most vulnerable members of our society, most notably the elderly and those with chronic diseases. We quickly introduced telemedicine and home delivery services to ensure these at-risk patients could continue to receive the medical care they need from the comfort and safety of their homes, without having to come into a hospital or health center. Additionally, we delivered targeted outreach and education programs for these risk groups to ensure they were aware of the actions to take to keep themselves safe during the pandemic.

How can the non-human contact and social distancing trends that prevail in our new normal give a boost to the rise of technologies with health applications?

COVID-19 has forced us to change and adapt many of our existing systems and processes as we entered a world where in-person contact between healthcare teams and patients was a potential risk. This led to us rapidly innovating and creating a range of virtual and telemedicine services for patients to access care from the safety of their own homes. Initially, all outpatient appointments were switched to telemedicine consultations, and a remote urgent care service was launched. This was made possible by launching the COVID-19 call center 16000. This physician-led urgent care service provided advice and care for urgent, but non-life-threatening, conditions and significantly reduced the number of people needing to visit emergency departments. With the pandemic leading to increased stress and anxiety among Qatar's population, we also launched a new Mental Health Helpline providing easy access to professional support for people experiencing stress or psychological distress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues. All of these virtual and telemedicine services were established as a result of COVID-19, but they have been so positively received by our patients that we are now planning how best to continue delivering these services alongside regular in person consultations.

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