CENTER OF EXCELLENCE

Saudi Arabia 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Saleh A Altamimi, CEO of King Saud Medical City, on the role of the institution and the future of care.

What is the main role that King Saud Medical City (KSMC) is fulfilling?

It has a long legacy. It was the first referral hospital ever built in Saudi Arabia. Although KSMC has most services, its core competencies are emergency care, trauma, orthopedics, burn, critical care, and dental care. Over the years, KSMC has played the role of safety net for Riyadh. We receive more emergency cases than any hospital in the Kingdom. Many of us were born here, including myself. For many years, most medical students in Riyadh had rotated at KSMC. It is very busy and students love that. KSMC is a main referral hospital for the Ministry of Health. Last year, 50% of acute care referrals within the Riyadh region came to KSMC. What we are trying to accomplish now is to be part of an integrated health system. KSMC and King Fahad Medical City are integrating to complement each other.

What are some of the centers of excellence that you focus on here?

Number one is trauma. KSMC aims to become a top level trauma center in the next 2-3 years. A lot of effort is being put into this project through a number of initiatives. One of them is building tower number three, which focuses on trauma and surgery. We have a large fund to build a state-of-the-art surgery and trauma center that is going to be built on a new plot of land we have recently acquired west of KSMC. We are heavily investing in training young Saudis in the best centers around the world and we are collaborating with a number of international partners in the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada to help us in training and transferring skills and knowledge. The second center of excellence is orthopedics. We probably have the biggest orthopedics service in the region. We have about 120 orthopedics beds. It is quite busy. Again, we are trying to develop orthopedics by bringing in new skills, upgrading services, and reaching out to the community in better ways. Number three is burns. We own one of the few burn centers in the Riyadh region. It is the biggest one and we are investing more and more into burn care. Our fourth center of excellence is the dental center. We provide comprehensive dental care and maxillofacial surgery free of charge for Saudis. The fifth center of excellence is critical care. We have a total of 150 critical care beds, the most in the Kingdom with a dedicated 40 beds for trauma ICU.

“KSMC aims to become a top level trauma center in the next 2-3 years."

Can you talk about your expansion plans?

This is very exciting. We are going to expand from 1,200 beds to 2,000 beds in seven year's time. Tower number two should be operating in six months. It will be a women and children's hospital. That will be really wonderful news for the community we serve because our current facility is very old. Tower Number three will be for surgery and trauma and it will have a large burn unit. Other new projects that will commence in the next 12-24 months are a 200-clinic dental center, a 300-clinic ambulatory center, and a parking building.

What are some of the main challenges for hospitals in Saudi Arabia?

A shortage of skilled professionals is the number one challenge everywhere in the Kingdom. Number two is the lack of integration in our healthcare system. Our patients suffer because of a lack of integration. No hospital could provide excellent care in all specialties. Today, there are 275 hospitals operated by the Ministry and there will be another 100-150 hospitals commissioned in the next five to six years. How are we going to operate all these new hospitals when most current hospitals are suffering from the lack of a skilled workforce? I strongly believe that the answer is in integration and sharing resources. Skilled professionals that are difficult to find should have privileges in more than one hospital. In other words, we should create multiple integrated health systems. We have started integrating with King Fahad Medical City (KFMC) and we have agreed that there will be services that will expand at KFMC and others that will expand at KSMC but they will complement each other. For example, if we diagnose a case of cancer, it will be referred smoothly to KFMC while trauma or burn case will be transferred to us.

What role do private hospitals play?

The private health sector is gaining market share very quickly for a number of reasons, mainly due to new medical insurance policies. All non-Saudis must have a medical insurance. Furthermore, the percentage of Saudis who have private medical insurance is on the rise. As you know, some of the big privately owned health systems have gone public. Not long ago, it was really unusual for a skilled Saudi professional to take a full-time job at a private hospital. That was considered an insecure job and not challenging enough. Now, it is totally a different story and this is a threat to the stability of public hospitals. I know many skilled Saudi physicians that have left public hospitals in the last one to two years to work full time in private hospitals. The private healthcare sector is offering very attractive packages, while public hospitals are stuck with a non-competitive fixed salary scale. This may be part of a natural progression toward a completely privatized national health system.

How do you see the role of public hospitals over the long term?

There is still a severe shortage in the number of hospital beds per capita compared to international benchmarks. And so, I think the partnership between the public and private healthcare systems is in the best interest of the community. Public hospitals have definitely not been able to attend to everyone, so having the private sector take a larger role is a good thing. We still have a huge problem with regards to access to care and waiting lists. Our ERs are usually full. Having fewer patients will allow us to improve quality. I believe the hospital of the future will have much more critical-care beds—at least 30% of total beds—with more patient procedures and care being provided as the outpatient level. There will be much more investment in home care to apply the “Hospital in the Home" concept. Future hospitals will integrate and share their skilled professionals. They will focus not only on the healing of the body, but also the mind and soul, by which patient-centered care will be the standard model. At least this is what I hope for.

© The Business Year - March 2015