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Mon 22 Oct 2007 04:00 AM

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Is competition the best medicine?

UAE patients will soon have access to information long kept under wraps by the healthcare industry.

UAE patients will soon have access to information long kept under wraps by the healthcare industry after a local hospital announced, unprompted, that it will post its performance data online.

For a region that has been almost phobic about sharing quality data, it is a staggering move, made all the more so, because the hospital in question - Sheikh Khalifa Medical City - is government-run. Now, all eyes are on the profit-led private sector to gauge its response.

Around the world, transparency initiatives in healthcare have picked up steam in response to patient pressure, while the Middle East has - with some notable exceptions - remained resolutely opaque. And while there is currently no mandatory legislation in the UAE to say hospitals must disclose data to the public, the industry is suffering because of it.

Let's take the US as an example. In 19 states, hospitals are now required to release certain data - such as statistics on hospital-acquired infections - to the public. And as a direct result, certain hospitals are reporting improvements. This is not because the causative factors behind nosocomial infections have melted away, but because - in a competitive market - hospitals are raising their game in response to increased scrutiny. The threat of comparitive data - online, on track, and accessible to patients - is apparently succeeding where years of advice about handwashing has failed.

The posting of clinical results is not an attempt to blame or criticise, but a way of telling patients that hospitals are trying to raise the bar. Clinicians and systems fail, and the most profitable way to learn from these errors is to acknowledge them. One of the benefits of having a newer healthcare system, especially one evolving as quickly as the UAE's, is that you can learn from the mistakes of others. As SKMC has realised, progressive healthcare is only achievable through transparency.

Exposing the underbelly of healthcare to the glare of public scrutiny will promote better accountability among providers. Patients deserve to know what kind of service they are getting. Do yours?

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