Muscat: It is common for Omanis to travel aboard to get medical treatment, which reflects the lack of quality healthcare system in Oman.
V. T. Saileswaran, managing director of the Apollo Hospital calls for a united effort to overcome the challenges facing healthcare industry and provide superior facilities in Oman. Through an explicit Q&A format, Saileswaran expounds on the factors affecting the healthcare industry in Oman.
What is the single most and biggest concern that you have in the private sector hospitals’ delivery of service to their patients in Oman?
Cost versus compassion is the biggest concern in the industry. The ever-increasing operational expenses and to maintain the standard of healthcare as per the Ministry of Health (MoH) guidelines without compromising on the quality at times becomes a concern. However, Apollo Hospitals has been synonymous with providing the best healthcare facilities at par with international standards and patients satisfaction.
What type of quality service do you want private sector hospitals here to give their patients?
Healthcare in Oman has come a long way since the 1970s when the Sultanate had only two hospitals with 12 beds. The system is considered world-class today and the country’s healthcare sector has witnessed commendable growth over the last few decades. In fact, The United Nations 2010 Human Development Report listed Oman at the top of the world's 10 leading countries that have made the greatest progress in recent decades in public health.
With the continuous support from the Government and MoH, the private healthcare providers have contributed significantly to transform Oman into a regional healthcare hub by introducing new specialities of treatments that were not present in the country earlier.
What are the key areas in which the private sector hospitals should increase their quality of service?
Affordable quality healthcare within the reach of the common man has been the intention of the private healthcare hospitals. Earlier the citizens had to travel to other nations for treatments but now they can avail the same treatments at home without additional expenses of travelling and Oman has been pushing for the implementation of modern technological solutions to boost efficiency in the healthcare sector.
What is stopping these hospitals from providing the service they should be giving their patients? What is the stumbling block for them? Where does the problem lie and what should be done about it?
Oman faces an increasing demand for both preventative and interventional services but the cost of providing healthcare continues to rise significantly, as new diagnostic equipment, treatment protocols, medications, treatment facilities, and skilled staff is needed.
Providing universal healthcare to a mixed population of Omanis and expatriates has been quite a challenge, considering the Sultanate’s unique topographical features and population distribution pattern. However, today, even remote hamlets inhabited by a few have access to healthcare.
However, in Oman, compared to other countries in the GCC region, revenues are not commensurate with the operational cost due to various factors such as lower insurance premium as compared to other GCC countries. The proposed mandatory insurance for all can improve the situation and change the healthcare industry.
What are the challenges that health providers like you (Apollo) face in the market (which is stopping you from providing 100 percent quality service to the patients)?
Apart from the operational costs, non-availability of skilled and competent professionals such as doctors and paramedical staff remains a big challenge not only for Apollo but also for most of the private hospitals. Today healthcare professionals are in huge demand everywhere in the world and a talented and successful medical practitioner now earns in India or the country of his or her origin more than what is offered here. Therefore, attraction and retention of these medical staff become a challenge, as you need to pay more to have quality people, which again directly affect your cost of operation.
What should be done to overcome these challenges?
A complete upgraded medical education is required in the country in order to produce more talented professionals to meet the increasing demand of the healthcare sector especially private sector which has an acute shortage of quality healthcare professionals. As long as the country depends on foreign professionals to meet its demand, the mismatch between the demand and supply will continue which invariably results in higher operational costs.
Has the delivery of health service by the private sector hospitals improved or declined when compared to the previous years of their existence? What are the reasons cited for the same?
Over the last 40 years, Oman has invested heavily in the health sector and succeeded in creating a relatively modern health care system. Undoubtedly, the delivery of services by the private hospitals has constantly progressed despite all the limitations. Newer specialities like the diabetes care, knee replacement surgery, obesity management and pediatric thalassemia units have been introduced in the country to provide access to an international level of treatment for the citizens of Oman, which was not present earlier.
Is there a unity among the private sector hospitals here? If the objective of each hospital is to provide quality health service to patients – don’t you think a common, healthy policy should be adopted among the hospitals and not resort to a dog-eat-dog policy?
The common objective of every private hospital in Oman is to develop a healthy nation and continuously improve the quality of healthcare in the country with our collective efforts. In that sense, we all are working together by exchanging the best practices and procedures in a structured manner to provide the optimum level of patient care. Moreover, working together also encourages to produce more local talents which are essential for the healthcare market today.
It was reported that more than 80,000 Omanis travelled to Thailand, with 80 percent of them making the journey for treatment; plus, an unspecified number of patients from Oman have gone to India for treatment – what does this signify? Doesn’t it mean that private sector hospitals do not have the capacity to hold these patients here and that there is a lack of trust on the facilities, services of the hospitals and the quality of the doctors itself?
The recent statistics clearly indicate that there has been a significant drop in the number of Omani nationals travelling to other countries for treatment because of the increasing availability of high-end, specialised care available locally through private healthcare providers, and it has been our constant effort to see that we deliver international levels of quality treatments to the citizens of Oman at home thereby emphasising on the need for broadening the range of world-class medical facilities to be made available locally which has significantly put the country’s healthcare services on a rapid growth.
As far as the doctors are concerned, we, at Apollo do not compromise on the quality of experienced medical practitioners and can claim to have the best from the industry like Dr Vladimir Martinek (Sr. Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon from Germany), Dr Nagaraja Rao (Senior Consultant, Urology), Dr Johannes (Sr. Consultant – Spine Surgeon from Germany) and Dr Revathi Raj (Sr. Consultant Paediatric Thalassaemia) to name a few, who are capable of providing international level of healthcare to the locals in the comfort of their home.
In short, how do you woo these patients back to the hospitals here?
We firmly believe that consistent quality services are the key to success, which has been the hallmark of Apollo Hospitals Group since its inception. Similarly, we at Apollo Muscat have upgraded our services by developing specialised facilities and preventive treatments of International standards at affordable prices. The efforts have been strengthened by a shift in attitude among Omanis, who according to a report issued by the Ministry of Health are now opting in growing numbers, to use private medical services that were once almost exclusively the domain of expatriates.
What is your message to your counterparts from other hospitals?
Private hospitals in Oman have come a long way despite the challenges. With the support from the government and MoH, in particular, we have upgraded our services and facilities, which have helped us to provide optimal quality healthcare to the locals as well as the expats. It should be noted that to ensure this, it is mandatory to have a teamwork between the government, MoH, private hospitals and the insurance companies to work hand in hand and to understand the need of the market and the difficulties faced by the private hospitals to provide quality healthcare and ensure that no patient has to seek treatments abroad only then it is possible to build a healthy nation.