COVID-19: An integrated healthcare system is the way forward

With dozens of healthcare facilities across the UAE, the country’s healthcare system is evolving faster than elsewhere in the world, says Christian Schuhmacher, CEO of King’s College Hospital London in Dubai.
10:03 AM

A few weeks ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) commended the UAE for leading the way in COVID-19 by conducting the highest level of testing per million in the world, which is an effective strategy of keeping track of the virus, which is pertinent to knowing the necessary measures to take in combating the epidemic. All these efforts have been made possible by the integrated healthcare system put in place to unite all the key health delivery systems.

The UAE is an example of how unified policies and infrastructures across the public and private healthcare sectors can work towards the delivery of a full range of services and as a result improve health outcomes. The collaboration and coordination between all players in the wide healthcare field is key to effectively and efficiently tackle any challenge, and especially one on the scale of the current pandemic. In Dubai not only is the coordination of beds, both critical and standard beds centralised, but all relevant government agencies, from Dubai Ambulance, to Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality and many others closely coordinate their efforts in tackling COVID 19 in Dubai.

And it went beyond just coordinating the immediate response. Research facilities like Mohammed Bin Rashid University (MBRU) is part of this unified approach and came up with groundbreaking analysis of the strain of virus here in the UAE. The key role in coordinating all these efforts in the healthcare sector is played by the COVID Central Command Center, where all initiatives, challenges and learnings are translated into practice and unified policies. All the relevant regulators like Dubai Health Authority (DHA), Dubai Healthcare City Authority and their key senior members, as well as the aforementioned key governmental and private stakeholders play a vital part in this collaborative effort of ensuring sufficient capacity and unified testing and treatment protocols.

The WHO describes an Integrated Healthcare System as “the organisation and management of health services so that people get the care they need, when they need it, in ways that are user-friendly, achieve the desired results and provide value for money”. This is what the healthcare system in the Emirates envisioned, and the reason why it is ranked among the leading healthcare delivery systems in the world. In the wider sense of the definition this includes all parties involved in delivering care and protection to the population of Dubai.

Under the visionary and efficient leadership of Dubai, the old and traditional model of “siloed” healthcare delivery and the gap between public and private providers was overcome in a matter of days.

Coordinated efforts in the face of COVID-19

As the pandemic jumped inside the UAE borders and continued to spread within, a need for integrating healthcare services across the board for both public and private players arose. With this fast-evolving health situation, a methodical approach was achieved by having a strong link between a cross section of healthcare facilities and medical staff, and synchronized systems of care among others. Within days all medical professionals were allowed to practice in any healthcare facility, irrespective of their original licensing body.

The goal of this methodology is to ease navigation through the healthcare infrastructure, not only for the patients, but for the medical and non-medical staff, and other professionals in the healthcare sector.

As the virus spread, the UAE health authorities had already risen to the expected challenge by successfully integrating healthcare services by adapting to the fast-changing global landscape.

A pandemic as an accelerator

Even before COVID many initiatives were in place to build a sustainable integrated healthcare system in the UAE. For instance, before coronavirus came knocking, the Abu Dhabi Department of health (DoH) and the DHA established a partnership to develop an international healthcare model that would promote quality of life and enhance health for everyone. This enabled the streamlining of healthcare delivery processes and enhancement of resources for a unified patient care within healthcare facilities. And as a result, adaptable service provision settings were created at different levels.

An example of these adaptable provision points was the Salama initiative, created by the DHA and launched back in 2017, which is a project whose main goal is to ‘provide patients and doctors access to medical records through a patient portal and ensure that the electronic patient medical record is available across all the DHA health facilities’. Today, and in the current COVID-19 climate, it couldn’t play a bigger role.

A second example of integrated healthcare is also by the DHA, known as NABIDH (Network Analysis Backbone Integrated Dubai Health) which enables the creation of a unified medical record for each individual in Dubai by connecting the information contained in all public and private healthcare facilities, leading to improved patient safety, reduced cost and evidence-based care.

Harmonisation between health professionals

With integration of a healthcare system also comes the challenge of overcoming the old-school healthcare siloes where there exists a boundary between healthcare specialties, and doctors and nurses just to name a few.

To realize the goals of healthcare integration, health facilities need to adopt a high degree of harmonisation of services at different levels and sectors. This includes patient care, policy making, and organisation management to unite the diverse roles of services at different levels of a health facility. As a result of this multi-level unique communication and sharing of data related to patient care and treatment plans, the needs of the patient can be effectively and efficiently met.

Being part of an integrated system: King’s plays its role

At King’s in Dubai, and by extension King’s College Hospital UK, our multi-disciplinary teams have challenged the so-called old-fashioned siloed practice, and work as a single ecosystem to prioritise the health and wellbeing of our patients.

At the end of the day, a number of different professions have to take care of one patient, and for this to be efficient, there has to be a more unified approach for a progressive outcome. If the coordinated mode of care is not adapted, the result would be inaction, which would potentially lead to unsatisfactory results for both the patient and the healthcare facility.

King’s is honored to be part of the orchestrated effort of Dubai to tackle the pandemic and to prepare for future health risks. We adapted our infrastructure, cross-trained staff and coordinated all efforts with the authorities and the leadership of Dubai. In addition to this we share the learnings from our colleagues at King’s London and their extensive ICU capacity to quickly adapt and import the best and most updated treatment modalities available.


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