Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saudi Arabia: Profit, Not Health, Must Take A Back Seat

Saudi Arabia needs to initiate necessary medical legislation to minimise instances of improper diagnosis
By Tariq A. Al Maeena
Recently I went to visit a friend at a local hospital. When I stepped into the lobby, my first thoughts were that I was in the wrong place. Thinking I had made a mistake, I actually took a couple of steps back, before allowing the expanse of the sight to sink in.
What greeted me was a spectacular lobby with deep mahogany and Italian marble everywhere. Soft lighting tinkled from crystal chandeliers. Why, there was even a famous and international franchise of a coffee shop at the side of the lobby, giving it an ambience of some five-star hotels in a large cosmopolitan city. Apparently, no expense was spared in the decor, or even in the livery of the staff.
There was a large and comfortable seating area at the side, deep and plush couches with soft music piped in, and I could easily envision escaping to this very place for an uninterrupted moment when writing my weekly pieces.
Enough daydreaming, I said to myself, as I took the elevator up to pay a visit to my friend. Well, there was more of the same in that hospital room. This looked more like the Ritz or the Plaza rather than Johns Hopkins Medical or the Mayo Clinic.
My friend remained in some discomfort; having entered the hospital with dizzy spells some days back, he had spent the last three days propped up and prodded and subjected to all sorts of tests, and not yet provided with a satisfactory diagnosis for his ailment. Several doctors had come by his bedside, said a word or two, scratched some text on the medical file by his bed and then left without much conversation. He remained in bed unsure and insecure of his medical status. After sharing my sympathies with him, I left.
On my way home I wondered. Such a common complaint by so many of us who seek medical attention. And why was it so? Well, let me begin by saying that many hospitals have indeed become big business. The bottom line is profit rather than speedy recovery. After all, how is that hospital expected to recoup its expenditure on ‘flash' or that entire glitzy decor? Let the patient pay for it!
These hospitals spend big bucks on facilities and equipment, yet maintain an unwritten policy of hiring the cheapest of doctors and supporting staff. The old adage that ‘when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys' applies in some of these cases.
Multi-testing is conducted for the simplest symptoms. Medicines are prescribed without proper understanding of their effects. In fact, a few doctors are ardent salesmen of pharmaceutical companies. We are slowly being transformed into pill poppers and medicine worshippers, who will not be properly satisfied unless we walk out with a prescription slip of no less than five or six different medicines. Anything less and we look upon the doctor with displeasure.
My own personal horror stories at being subjected to the incorrect diagnosis of doctors affirm the very feeling that we are being victimised by insensitive and improper care. I was once prescribed Prozac when all I needed was a muscle relaxant. When I broke a couple of bones in my foot some years back, a veterinarian, masquerading as a bone specialist, had set it back in plaster! I found out his true status much later after he was fired. And the list goes on and on.
Dubious qualifications
In the area of mental health, there has been considerable harm to so many of us. Dangerous medicine has been so frequently prescribed, practically frying some of the brain cells in our skulls permanently and resulting in total dependency. There are many ‘mind' doctors out there, but how many of them are really qualified to correctly diagnose patients seeking mental health? In one hospital, it was discovered that a European lady was providing medical care based on qualifications she obtained solely over the internet with absolutely no clinical study or classroom experience. Finding qualified psychiatric care is in itself a challenge.
And as long as some doctors and hospitals decree that it is ‘an act other than their own' when something goes wrong, with the patient at the receiving end of the wrong-doings, we will continue to suffer. It is only clearly defined malpractice mandates, that should come into law, that would force house cleaning at these institutions.
There are good and virtuous doctors out there. But faced with the pressure of recouping investments in ‘glitz' at these institutions and having to process more patients per hour than is sensible, these doctors lose out in the battle of substance over quota.
It is time that those entrusted with health legislation initiate the necessary laws to minimise the cruel subjugation of our community with improper diagnosis. When it comes to medical care, profit must take a back seat.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 17/07/2011
-Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He was educated at the University of Denver. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

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