Health Special: Extraordinary care for ordinary patients

The statement that health care in Saudi Arabia is up to international standards or in some cases even better might be viewed by some readers as a gross exaggeration. But it is true. The Kingdom, in fact, can boast some 400 world-class health institutions and hospitals including specialized facilities that provide top-of-the-line treatment to the poor and the rich for a wide variety of diseases and disorders. The claim is not that Saudi Arabia has the best in the world, but it is way ahead of many countries and in certain fields on a par with the best.

Located in the major Saudi cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, there are world-renowned specialized hospitals into which massive investment has been poured and which, as a result, could well be the envy of many an advanced industrialized country. With huge state-of-the-art infrastructures, the latest medical equipment, top consultants and highly-trained support staff, these hospitals are able to provide specialist care for an number of chronic ailments and diseases as well as potentially terminal ones.

Prominent among them is the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSH) in Riyadh. One of 190 hospitals owned and operated by the government, the 894-bed teaching hospital is one of the country’s leading specialist care units. It also undertakes medical research and education programs, supports government initiatives with the formulation of national health policies and plans and offers postgraduate education and training programs. Its staff include a number of researchers and medical academics who have made their mark in health education and practice in the Middle East.

Ever keen to be at the forefront of new ideas, KFSH was the first in the Kingdom to use CyberKnife, a noninvasive frameless radiosurgery system which allows for significantly fewer complications and less risk than open surgery. The only robotic facility in the country, the technology should go a long way in treating cancer patients — important because KFSH has the largest cancer treatment facility in the Gulf region. The hospital’s vision is to become one of the premier centers for cancer research and studies in the world, particularly in the field of cancer prevention.

The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Jeddah was established in year 2000 to provide similar specialist treatment and facilities for people in the western part of the country. Spread over 80,000 square meters with a bed capacity of 460, this tertiary care hospital is considered one of the best in Saudi Arabia.

Among other major specialist centers in the Kingdom is the Saudi Center for Organ Transplantation. Since 1987, it has supervised the transplantation of thousands of kidneys, livers and hearts. Another leading name is the King Fahd Medical City in Riyadh. In addition to a 459-bed public hospital, it has a 246-bed children’s hospital, a 236-bed maternity unit, a kidney and medical rehabilitation center and, outside the capital, a mental health unit with 300 beds.

In the field of ophthalmology, King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital (KKESH) is another name to reckon with, the first of its kind in the Middle East. For more than a quarter of a century, this public hospital has been recognized as a center of excellence for the delivery of ophthalmic patient care and its educational programs including seminars and training. Not only does it provide tertiary ophthalmic care on site, it also provides it across the Kingdom through its outreach, educational and research programs. It has several pioneering programs like its highly-popular corneal donation campaign and eye bank.

“KKESH has accomplished an impressive record of 1,122 corneal transplants in 2008,” said Dr. Abdul Elah Al-Towerki, the hospital’s executive director. He said that the hospital’s eye bank is the first of its kind in the Middle East. It is a member of Eye Bank Association of America and the International Federation of Eye and Tissue Banks (IFETB).

Another specialist hospital is King Fahd Military Hospital in Jeddah, which is highly regarded for the emergency medical care it provides. Apart from general and specialist surgery, it has a maternity unit and a burns unit.

These are far from the only tertiary care hospitals in the Kingdom. There are others, especially in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, as well as general hospitals providing a range of specialist services, particularly for the treatment of diseases. In Riyadh, these include Obeid Specialized Hospital, Hammadi Hospital, Al-Mashary Hospital, Dallah Hospital, Green Crescent Hospital, Suleiman Habib Medical Center, Military Hospital, Specialized Medical Center, Kingdom Hospital, Riyadh Care Hospital, Security Forces Hospital and Kind Khaled University Hospital.

In Jeddah, there are several public and private sector hospitals offering specialist services and treatment for chronic ailments. Magrabi Hospitals, which has hospitals and centers across the country as well as in a number of Arab states, offers ophthalmology, ENT and dental services at four different locations in the city. The city’s 300-bed International Medical Center is now one of the top multispecialty hospitals in the Kingdom with units dealing with children’s health, women’s health, pain and headache management, plastic surgery and dermatology, diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders, especially back pain.

Others headquartered in Jeddah but operating across the Kingdom include Bugshan Hospital, Dr. Suleiman Fakeeh Hospital, King Abdulaziz University Hospital, King Abdulaziz Hospital & Oncology Center and King Fahd Armed Forces Hospital. The list for the Eastern Province includes Al-Amal Complex for Mental Health, Al-Dossary Hospital and Al-Mana Hospital.

As the population grows, so will the number of hospitals — specialist and general alike. But another trend is emerging. A recent report bearing on the future of specialized hospitals in Saudi Arabia has said that the Kingdom is moving toward a position where many such hospitals as well as health companies will offer integrated specialist health services, including examination, treatment and follow-up, at home.

The first of its kind to do so is newly-established Salam Home Health Care which initially intends to focus on Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Makkah and Madinah.

The claim by its CEO, Taymour Ismail, is that such home health care services will lessen the pressure on hospitals. According to him, many countries in the world, including the US, are now using this form of service in parallel to hospitals and clinics and that field studies have shown that it can save over 60 percent of the costs of hospital treatment, especially for patients with chronic illnesses who need continuous care.

It is an interesting development and raises questions about where next. Operations at home? That might seem a step too far, but given the scale and speed of developments in technology, perhaps not.

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