Need to expand home healthcare


Al-Watan newspaper

GOVERNMENT and private hospitals vary in size and capacity, cleanliness, quality of services, excellence of their doctors, and efficiency of their nursing staff, technicians and other employees.

No matter how different the hospitals are, they will provide the minimum required care, including repeated medical examinations, timely treatment, attention to the patient's personal hygiene and basic needs, thus realizing satisfaction of patients and their relatives.

The existence of advanced facilities often provides moral and psychological support to the patient and his/her relatives. But what will happen when the patient leaves the hospital?

We agree that hospitals cannot keep most patients until they fully recover, except in rare cases. When adult patients leave ICUs and premature babies leave nurseries they may develop serious complications, which could prove to be fatal. A patient is allowed to leave hospital when he/she begins recovery, requiring 50% or 70%, or 90% more care to get full recovery.

There will be patients who need bed and special care at super specialty public and private hospitals, so that they could complete their treatment at home. Hospitals will not be able to provide total care to patients with chronic diseases, people with permanent disabilities, or the elderly as they will not be able to make any improvement in their health.

However, efforts must be made to maintain their health and reduce their difficulties as far as possible. In this situation, all these groups of patients as well as their families will find themselves in a new reality that is difficult and confusing.

The material aspect of caring for a patient, even if it is just to buy medicines and medical equipment, is undoubtedly expensive. But middle class people would not find it challenging compared to others.

Who will take care of a patient 24 hours, like a hospital? There are nurses who work for 8 or 12 hours daily to take care of patients despite heavy pressure on them. But who will take care of patients with chronic illness at home?

It’s true that a patient will have a loving family who wants to extend all services required by him, but every member of the family will have own circumstances. In this case who will support them?

Well-to-do families will be ready to spend anything to solve this problem and give the best care to their patients. But families having middle or low income may have to take care of their patients by themselves. It’s a difficult task, especially when they have other stressful living obligations. The maximum they can do is to recruit a maid servant to take care of the patient but she will not be the right person to do this important job.

As this situation is not limited to us alone, we should look at developed countries to know how they deal with such problems, despite the differences of Western and Arab societies in terms of close family relationship, geographical proximity and moral bond between families and relatives. The health system in those countries is designed to reduce the pressure on hospitals. It is believed that home care is not only less expensive than hospital treatment but a psychologically better option for the patient who loves to be at home and in the midst of family and neighbors.

In Britain, for example, they encourage mothers to deliver babies at homes, especially for those who do not have serious health problems and are expected to have a normal birth without complications. It has been found that giving birth at home would have a positive psychological impact on women during and after the delivery.

Even if a woman delivers her child normally at hospital, the midwife will visit her several times during the first six weeks following the delivery to check her "physical and psychological" health as well as the health of the baby and to answer questions about breastfeeding and care.

This system can be applied to patients suffering from chronic or rare diseases and for children with severe disabilities. We know that even if one or both parents dedicate their services full-time, the family needs help and support in caring for the patient so that they can get some relief and continue their lives normally without trouble. Physical pressure will have their psychological implications that may endanger the life of the caregiver, if there is no one to support him/her.

Saudi Arabia has recognized the importance of home healthcare 10 years ago. The Ministry of Health has a special program known as "Home Healthcare” to provide important and varied services to certain groups. It has set out certain conditions for this service which have been explained on the ministry’s website. Some of the conditions are quite reasonable and acceptable while others required changes and flexibility to make them more effective.

Personally, I do not know any individual or family having benefited from this free program. People who need this type of care often resort to solutions provided by the private sector. Thus we’ll not be able to judge the benefit and effectiveness of this program.

However, I believe that efforts must be made to expand this program for the benefit of a large number of patients adding new services and charging nominal fees. This service must be made available to all groups of society without discrimination.

May God bless all of us with good health and wellness, heal our patients and strengthen willingness of our officials to provide appropriate healthcare services to the weaker groups of society.