Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Expats Should Register at Hospital In Saudi Arabia

One thing that expats should do as soon as possible after arriving in Saudi Arabia is to register at their hospital of choice.  And ensure that your employer has sorted out your medical insurance.  Here’s a story from Arab News:
Payment first, treatment next
Published: Oct 4, 2010 23:47 Updated: Oct 4, 2010 23:47

RIYADH: Bank officials and customers were perplexed when an ambulance with sirens blaring and lights flashing rushed to the parking lot of a local bank.

Nurses then disembarked along with a man in a stretcher; the entire group then entered the bank. Onlookers were left confused and thought paramedics had mistaken the hospital for a bank.

This was, it later transpired, not the case. The man had fallen extremely ill, but the hospital had refused him treatment without advance payment. The man then requested the hospital staff to take him to the bank to withdraw money and pay for his treatment, Shams newspaper reported.
Rumor has it that if you rock up sick to a hospital in Riyadh, and you are not registered at that particular institution, they will not let you see a doctor till the paperwork is done.  This sounds fairly normal really, I mean anytime I visit a doctor for the first time, they ask me to fill in a form while I wait for my appointment.

But this is Riyadh!

The compound ladies told me that the administrative processes in this region are elephants, really big, old elephants, and the ‘care factor’ about your situation is usually non-existent (What, in a hospital they don’t care? Apparently not in admin), so you’re pretty much guaranteed you will be hanging around the waiting room for awhile.

The idea of suffering immeasurable pain or discomfort and being held up at reception while clerks loaf around with the ‘Going slow and loving it’ button on is not really a situation that I’d like to be in.

They recommended that I make an appointment at the hospital for a checkup so that I can get registered before illness strikes.  They also said take a good book and a huge does of patience – the wait can be long.

The other option is that Glenn can go to the hospital and, being my husband, he can register both of us. This means the hospital will have a file in my name, but it’s empty – no BP, Temp, Heart rate or medical history. They’ll have to wait till I arrive, unwell, to fill in that info.  That doesn't really strike me as a good plan either, but apparently that's the one he has opted for, primarily because of all that expat advise.

He is asking a Saudi work colleague to accompany him - one for the language barrier, and two, because things tend to happen slightly faster when a Saudi guy asks for it.

Personally, I think I’d prefer the first option – any excuse for a day out.
(Are you getting bored Gae? Feeling a little cabin fever maybe?...... Noooo!)

I have actually been to a hospital here already, to do the medical for my Iqama, but being new to Riyadh I was a little nervous. There was no need to be.  It's looked and felt like a hospital, except for a couple of quirky Saudi things.

I do wonder why my details wouldn't already be in the hospital records from that visit, but I guess that would mean the elephant was thinking….not something a Saudi elephant is renowned for.

Hospitals here are largely staffed by expats - a term I’m broadly applying to anyone who is not Saudi – and weirdly, when it comes to Saudi health and clinical staff, the ‘expat’ tag tends to negate the co-mingling rule just a little.

Health professionals (Doctors and the like) are not actually exempt from the 'no interaction' decree, but how both parties (doctor/patient) maintain face is interesting.

According to stories I've heard, all second hand so…. OK, it’s gossip, most Saudi women stay covered in the presence of a male doctor, so he really has no clue who he’s dealing with – perfect time to send in your cousin for that blood test that might show drugs.  And it is not uncommon for doctors to write scripts for patients without actually having done a full assessment, because that might require getting close and touching a member of the opposite sex.

I dread to think how many misdiagnosed people on the wrong kinda drugs are running around Saudi right now!

And on the flip side, I wonder how doctors here can really improve their skills if 8 times out of 10, they can’t perform even the most basic assessments properly?

This may explain why, when I saw the doctor for my Iqama, he lept to his feet to listen to my heart, check my eyes and look in my throat (very basic stuff) once he ascertained I was neither Muslim nor Saudi.  It still makes me wonder why I’m not already on the books though? I mean what info did he record and where did he record it?

In most other countries, the motivation for a doctor’s actions in a consult is his/her professionalism (barring the occasional weirdo) – but I reckon without doubt the greater force influencing the Saudi doctor/patient relationships is fear. Some argue it’s custom, but actually it’s fear.

Fear by the doctor of being accused, should he dare move from behind his desk and look like he's going to wield his stethoscope, as an inappropriate practitioner (chopping block accusations those are); Fear by the patient of being labeled a bad Muslim and, for the ladies especially, a dishonorable woman.

In a country where flashing a bit of ankle skin is sufficient for fallacious labels, showing anything else....well….Hussy!!

It seems the carry on in Saudi hospitals has concerned the present King (it probably concerns a number of people, but I’m giving him the credit) because they are currently building a women only university which will house, among other things, ‘13 colleges, including those for medicine, dentistry, nursing, naturopathy and pharmacy, several laboratories and a 700-bed hospital equipped with state-of-the-art facilities’. (I’m guessing it will be a woman only hospital).

They’ll be churning out female medical practitioners in huge numbers once this University gets up and running.

This article gives a little insight into the Princess Noura University and Saudi women and education

The fact that there will be a college for Naturopathy gives me hope that the medical model of birthing that currently abounds in hospitals in Saudi will give way to a more natural birth philosophy. (I might not be practicing as a midwife right now, but that doesn't mean I don’t care).

And who knows, one day they may fully embrace Homeopathy too.
Heck, if the Saudi health system and hospitals get that progressive, I may never leave.

Ka Kite,

1 comment:

  1. Good day and thanks for taking the time to write about our country. on the "The darker Side of The Desert";

    I think Expats/westerns look at this country with their own western eyes, that creates a lot of confusion!!. Let me bring up one example, westerns beleive that Saudis don't treat women properly!!. During my bussines trips to the US, whenever I have a conversation with western ladies I tell them the way we live and the way our wifes are treated. They always end up that conversation with; they're treated like princess, We wish we were Saudi's!!.

    For housemaids, the majority fears god and treat them fairly, but again the media always like to focus on what only few do. By the way, our religion doesn't allow that and housemaids live like a family member in the majority of Saudi houses. They get to eat, sleep, etc. at the family expenses as part of the contract. About the look in their eyes, I see a lot of maids' smily faces, cell phones, groups get together, etc. when I take my family to the mall.

    I hope you enjoy your stay in Riyadh, and let me suggest this place to visit, if you have not been there yet!

    Good luck,


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