PUTTING PATIENTS FIRST

Oman 2020 | HEALTH | INTERVIEW

The Royal Hospital continues to bolster its brand by maximizing patient experience at all stages of the journey.

Qasem Ahmed Al Salmi
BIOGRAPHY

Qasem Ahmed Al Salmi is a senior consultant pediatric pulmonologist and Director General of the Royal Hospital. He is an American Board certified pediatric pulmonologist, who earned his medical doctoral degree from the College of Medicine, Sultan Qaboos University in 1994. He completed his residency and fellowship training and earned a Master's degree in Public Health from Houston, Texas.

What are your thoughts regarding the evolution of the public healthcare system in the short term?
The quality of healthcare services in Oman is comparable to any other developed country; however, many people seek a second opinion abroad, as it is their right to do so. The marketing of the private sector in Oman is not at the level where it should be. What is still lacking is the trust of the public and the awareness of just what is available. Much will depend on the decision to introduce health insurance for citizens and residents. The decision has not been made yet for Omanis, but has already been taken for expatriates, who today require coverage. This is a high-level decision. Of course, to use an approach that considers universal healthcare insurance coverage, many requirements need to be put in place first. The government has partnered with a private institution, a university from South Korea, to devise a draft document on the requirements of establishing universal insurance coverage.

How can PPPs help achieve the goals set by the Ministry of Health, and what will be their impact on tertiary healthcare?
When it comes to hospitals, tertiary, or outpatient care, PPPs work well. Often, the PPP model allows the government to work with partners who as experts in the field have greater efficiency and utilization of resources. The model also expedites investment, which allows for a timelier meeting of demand. Government processes take a long time while the private sector can supplement that with its quicker reaction time to the demand for new services and so on.

What is the current status of preventative healthcare, and how can it be improved?
In Oman, preventative healthcare is a strong area of focus, with child immunization rates among the highest in the world. Moreover, the country's overall structure allows for a general healthy condition, with a robust water supply, state-of-the-art sewage and hygiene infrastructure, and free access to healthcare. Cancer screening programs are rather costly, but they are a crucial element of preventive healthcare. Oman has now introduced a breast cancer screening program, with other screening programs in the pipeline, such as colon cancer and cervical cancer. These are all country-specific, as early detection determines both treatment and outcome.

What do you think about the advent of digitalization in medical services and the medical profession, and what are your concerns regarding patient data security?
Our entire health information system has being digitalized. We have had paperless medical records for years, which has given us many advantages. Oman has a nationwide individual medical record inclusive of medical history and treatments, which can be accessed from anywhere. In terms of confidentiality and data security, there is always a risk, but the government opted to have this information on an internal server and not connected to the internet. The main change is our increasing dependency on technology, and with AI already there, we are poised to enhance patient services by bringing them more satisfaction. Indeed, although it is costly, whether applied to equipment or medications, it will improve the quality of our services and ultimately lead to better utilization of services.

What are your priorities for 2020, and what are the strategic drivers behind them?
In 2019, we reviewed our mission and created hospital-wide goals such that each department sets their own objectives. Ultimately, we aim to maximize patient experience within the hospital from the time they enter until they leave, as well as all interactions within the hospital, and also our efficiency in service delivery. We are focused on bolstering the brand of the Royal Hospital. We have introduced a number of latest treatments. We have a national heart center that has introduced numerous procedures over the last two years. We also have a major upcoming project involving the expansion of our pediatric and neonatal intensive care unit.