In an exclusive interview with GN Focus, the management team at Medcare reveals how the top healthcare brand raced against time to provide optimum care to Covid patients and be finally declared Covid-free
In March, as the Covid-19 pandemic spread its tentacles around the world, Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres partnered with the Dubai Health Authority to contain the outbreak in the UAE by offering round-the-clock services to provide optimum care to Covid-19 patients.
Now, Medcare has been declared Covid-free so that non-Covid patients get continuity of care.
We speak to Dr Shanila Laiju, CEO Medcare Hospital and Medcare Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital; Dr Shamsa Abdulla Ali Bin Hammad, COO Medcare Women and Children Hospital; Abdelkarim Braka, COO Medcare Medical Centres and Dr Jacob Cherian, Medical Director for Medcare Medical Centres, as the team elaborates on the group’s role in helping the UAE tide over this difficult period.
Why was the step to make Medcare non-Covid-19 facilities taken?
Dr Shani: Medcare Hospitals and Medical Centres are premium healthcare facilities, and their decision to be Covid-free was taken to ensure that non-Covid patients could be provided continuity of care, while helping them maintain comfort in visiting our facilities, and enhance the partnership we share. It will also foster a sense of ease and peace of mind among our patients.
The hospital has also signed a memorandum of understanding with approved Covid-19 facilities to transfer all Covid-19 patients identified during screening in the hospital.In order to provide a hygienic and completely safe environment, we have enforced stringent safety measures to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19 among patients, staff, and visitors.
Dr Shamsa: A patient’s health is always a priority. From the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis we decided to keep Medcare Women & Children Hospital Covid-free for any mother who wished to deliver in a safe environment, for any woman who requested health services including surgery, medical requirements, endocrinology, gastroenterology and more, for any mother who wants to take her children for their vaccine or get them checked for miscellaneous health issues. Moreover, in order to make sure that our hospital is a non-covid facility we undertook many measures such as upon entering the hospital for any maternity-related visit, patients are directed to maternity wards, without the need to pass by the Emergency Department. Furthermore, doctors, midwives and maternity nurses work exclusively on the maternity wards and they are not deployed to work in other areas of the hospital.
How important is it for a facility like Medcare Women & Children Hospital to be Covid-free? What specific measures have been taken in this regard?
Dr Shamsa: Even during these challenging times we continue to have patients who depend a lot on the generic healthcare facilities that we provide. Being a multi-specialty hospital that specializes in women and children care, we also welcome many new babies every day. For mothers to feel secure in the belief that their newborn is safe, is extremely critical to the functioning of this hospital. It is important, therefore to ensure that we remain a Covid-free hospital. Unlike other surgeries or procedures, delivering a baby is always time bound and the mother and the medical staff don’t have the option to move the procedure to a later date. A pregnant woman needs to deliver at a certain time, regardless of the challenges and risks that Covid poses, so it is extremely important for our hospital to be Covid-free.
We also need to make sure that no one, neither the staff nor the patient, register Covid symptoms. All expectant mothers visiting the hospital are requested to undergo a swab test to prove they are Covid-free, thereby ensuring the safety and health of the baby and mother. All our rooms – LDR, OT, Inpatient rooms, nursery etc are going through regular disinfection drives. We do not let anyone, other than close family members to enter our LDR, OT or NICU areas. Even family members entering these areas are requested to wear disposable gowns and we make sure that they have sanitised their hands. Besides, constant disinfection drives at our hospital allow us to make sure that expectant mothers give birth to their newborn in an environment that is healthy and safe.
Have you seen any reluctance in patients wanting to get operated or visiting a hospital dedicated to orthopaedics and spinal issues?
Dr Shani: Initially people who were not facing a medical emergency were reluctant to come, considering they were unsure if the hospital was Covid-free. If you look at the last two weeks, from June onwards, when elective cases were approved by the DHA, there was a change. We have taken all precautionary measures and have given educational material to patients so that they are assured of the fact that the hospital is Covid-free. We perceive a change in mindset now, with people more willing to opt for surgery than what we observed even a month back. The cases have started increasing as well.
Are medical centres adopting the same measures as hospitals?
Karim: We are dealing more with outpatients and have a smaller space. However, we have adopted the same measures to ensure that patients receive the services we have to offer with confidence in their utmost safety.
From a medical perspective, what protocols are you adopting?
Dr Jacob: The priority is avoiding cross-contamination. Patients who come to any of our medical centres have to feel secure that other patients, especially asymptomatic ones, do not infect them. The screening starts from the entrance to the facility itself. For instance, every patient is screened and temperature readings are taken. A short medical history of the patient is also recorded for our database. If there is any suspicion, we move the patient to an isolation room where he/she is assessed by a physician. If it is confirmed that the patient is positive, we move the person to a different facility. In addition, we make sure social distancing rules are strictly followed. Furniture and tabletops are properly sanitized and consultation and treatment rooms are thoroughly cleaned between patient visits.
Do you find people in need of healthcare still showing reluctance about a hospital visit?
Karim: During the pandemic, there was some reluctance understandably, but now people are more confident. They have learnt to live with it. There is also discipline in following the advice of authorities. We see that month-on-month and week-on-week, there is an increase in trust and patients are coming in for treatment. Last month, we saw very few paediatric cases because people were hesitant to bring children to the clinic. Now we are seeing an increase. We also see dermatology and cosmetology cases going up; dentistry clinics have seen a surge in patients, and chronic diseases such as diabetes have witnessed a rise.
Dr Shamsa: I don’t think this applies to healthcare alone. People in general want to take precautions for their own well-being. We can see that although we have almost returned to normal, people continue to take precautionary measures to protect themselves and their loved ones. Patients who need to come in to the hospital for certain procedures or consultations are doing so. As health care providers we are ensuring that the doctor’s appointment schedule is carefully planned. Maintaining social distancing and patients’ safety remains our top priority.
Have you completely stopped admitting people with symptoms of Covid-19?
Dr Shamsa: We do not refuse any patient, but if a patient is Covid-19 positive, we immediately refer him/her to a Covid facility. This is to ensure the patient gets the right treatment and that the infection is not spread within our hospital. In such cases, we follow all contact tracing protocols by ensuring that any person, who has come in contact with that patient, undergoes a test themselves.
Karim: We have finalised our plan and are rolling it out. Anyone coming to our clinic to be assessed and if there is suspicion, we will transfer them to a suitable facility.
Medical centres are community clinics. How do you ensure patient and staff safety in such an environment?
Karim: At every stage of the patient’s journey, we have control and monitoring measures in place. For instance, we start from the call centre and see if the patient’s needs can be managed with just a teleconsultation. If the patient wishes to make a booking, there are some questions to answer. We also screen patients on arrival.
What role will digital technology play as hospitals adapt to the ‘new normal’?
Dr Shani: Medcare has launched a telemedicine service called teleMEDCARE. It is designed to empower patients to take control of their health and offers everything from video medical consultations to booking appointments. Patients can speak directly with doctors and care pathways are recommended without the need to book an appointment. If patients wish to schedule a video call with a doctor, they can request an appointment online and a video call will be scheduled through the website (Medcare.ae).
What is the expertise behind the telemedicine service?
Dr Shani: We have identified primary care doctors, all of whom have years of experience. The doctors are qualified to diagnose a patient’s condition, recommend treatment plans, provide second opinions on previous diagnoses and give advice on medication. If specialist treatment is required, the telehealth doctors will recommend and refer patients to appropriate specialists and facilities. All doctors have received additional clinic and platform training to ensure they are equipped to conduct the new patient consultation process. We also offer to deliver medicines to patients’ homes.
What changes has Medcare made in areas that involve immunocompromised patients?
Dr Jacob: When we say immunocompromised patients, we are referring to those undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, people over the age of 60, and patients with uncontrolled diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease or a previous history of heart attacks. We would definitely try to discourage immunocompromised patients visiting the facility now. We have made all arrangements if the patient wants to avoid visiting the centre, such as teleconsultations and the home delivery of medicines. However, if the patient needs to be examined, we will bring them to the clinic. We prefer that people do not accompany the patient unless it is essential.
What is important is the need to give patients confidence to come back to medical centres. Our complete focus is on allaying their fears and lending them the confidence that medical facilities are much safer now.
Precautions being undertaken by Medcare
* Every person undergoes a temperature check at the entrance of the facility.
* Sanitisers are placed near all touchpoints.
* Social distancing stickers are placed all around the facility.
* Seating arrangements in waiting and any other gathering areas (such as pantry or café) are redesigned as per social distancing norms.
* Appointment slots are managed and timed to prevent overlapping, and keep waiting period to a minimum.
* There is a gap of not less than 20 minutes between appointments, which is used to sterilize all surfaces inside the examination room before the next patient arrives.
* The premises are regularly disinfected as per set protocols.
l Masks are mandatory. If anyone enters without a mask, they can get one from the reception.
* Patients have to undergo a Covid-19 swab test at least 72 hours before a surgery.
* In-patient visiting hours have been reduced.
* Outpatients are discouraged from bringing companions unless it is unavoidable.
* If a Covid-19 patient comes to a facility, prescribed protocols are followed and he/she is immediately referred to a Covid-19 facility.