There are many amazing things in the UAE. Things that I see and think, “wow, why don’t we do that in the U.S.?” Then there are other things that just make me think, REALLY? The healthcare system is one of those cringe worthy things. Before I give my slight rant, I will fully acknowledge that I am lucky to have health coverage. I realize that many people don’t have the access or resources to get much needed medical treatment. I am also willing to concede that I am comparing my experiences here with my experience in the U.S. and that is not entirely fair – which is not to say the U.S. medical system is without problems. All that being said….
There are no doctor offices like we have in the States. Instead, when you are ill, you go to the hospital. The first time you want to be seen, you just go in, register, and wait to see the first available doctor. If you have a special condition or are in need of regular treatment, you will be able to schedule appointments after this first consultation.
One of the first problems that I encountered is that it isn’t very clear what you should do, where you should wait, or who you should talk to. It was hard to determine if I should be taking a ticket to wait (think DMV) and if so, where do I wait? In the family waiting room or the other room? Is the other room just for men? Am I allowed in there? Or do I have to sit with all of the feverish, crying children? Then it is time to wait for your number to be called. And wait. And wait. I have a suspicion that wait time depends on which button you had to push to get a number (the three choices were: Thiqa (insurance for nationals), insurance holders with no co-pay, and insurance holders with co-pay or non-insurance holders).
Once your number is called, you are called back to have your weight and blood pressure taken. I think they are estimating more than actually looking at the scale because during my three visits within one week my weight varied by about 7 kilos (15 pounds). Maybe the man taking my weight thought it would be rude to stand close enough to actually read the numbers?
My experience has varied with the doctors here; some with varying levels of English ability, others with awkward bedside manner, and a couple with questionable medical training. The lab gets two thumbs down. Not only did I have to wait for almost two hours for a blood draw at 1:00 in the afternoon after fasting all day, but I also had to ask the phlebotomist to change her gloves. Is that me just being paranoid or picky? The hospitals feel dirty to me. I say this with surprise because the malls and the university are very clean and modern. They have cleaning staff jumping at the chance to clean up discarded garbage. I would have expected that the hospitals would be cared for with at least this same level of attention, but instead the bathrooms are dirty, the facilities look run down, it’s difficult to find parking, and there is construction everywhere.
It hasn’t been easy figuring out the medical system here; however, this last week when I went in for my fourth monthly check in (as a patient with an appointment), I felt like I had conquered the system. I was able to complete each step and get out of there in an hour instead of the three hours it was taking the past couple of months.
Step 1: Go to Social Services to have my ID checked and receive a paper with an official signature. This time I remembered that to get to the Social Services department I must go to the second building over, through the construction, past the elevator that isn’t in service, through the labor and delivery department (hi babies), up the elevator that works, turn right, go through the doors into the ICU that say “Authorized Medical Personal Only”. Then in the very back corner is the social services department. Show ID, get paper signed, and on to step 2.
Step 2: Go to appointment desk in main building. Because I have an appointment, I get to skip the main appointment check in center (figured that out after waiting for 30 minutes my first visit). The receptionist is getting to know me (she calls me sister now). Check in, show my authorized paper from social services, pay 20 Dirhams, schedule next appointment, get patient sticker sheet. Move on to step 3.
Step 3: Go into female only patient waiting area. After I hand the nurse my patient sticker sheet, I go around the corner to be weighed (estimated) and have my blood pressure checked. Then I go back around the corner and wait to be called. This part is always fun because you never know what to expect. The time before last, the tiny waiting room was packed full. The chairs line the wall in a U shape. There were 5 fully covered women on one side and 5 on the other side. The only seat available was right in the middle, so that is where I sat. That felt like a very very long 30 minutes with all of them just staring at me. Awkward. On to step 4.
Step 4: See the doctor. Once they call my name (Tori Cara – maybe they think my middle name is my last name?), I see the doctor. They don’t shut the door. Patient confidentiality doesn’t seem to be a concern here. The doctor I usually see here is the one with questionable medical knowledge and limited English, so I have learned that I have to double check everything. Correct prescription? Correct form (must have red line)? Patient sticker attached? All boxes completed? Correct diagnosis listed? Right dosage? Signed? Verified by department head? Learning to double check all of this has saved me the hassle of getting to the pharmacy and being sent back to have the doctor re-do everything. Fortunately this last visit was a fill-in doctor. He didn’t seem to have a clue either, but at least he took my word for it and just did everything I told him to do.
Step 5: Go to the pharmacy. This time I remembered that the pharmacy is the third building over. Go in the main entrance, past the gift shop, through the construction, watch out for people carrying platters (why are there always people carrying platters when I go there?), and go down the hall that says “Inpatient Pharmacy Only. No Outpatients”. Knock on the gated window (it isn’t a secret knock, but I feel like it should be since I am the only outpatient around there). This last visit was the first time I was able to give the pharmacist the prescription and not have her send me back to the doctor because of an error. She said to me, “Ah see the doctor finally learned.” of which I replied, “Well, no, this time I had a fill-in doctor.” Then I give her my official signed paper from social services and a patient sticker and remind her that she has to make a copy of the social services paper (one time she forgot to do this part, and on my next visit I had to come back to the pharmacy to have it done between steps 2 and 3). After she gives me my medicine (which always has the wrong directions and isn’t the right dosage), I am free to leave. Only to come back and repeat all over again next month.