Abdulrazzaq is a 20-something happy employee at a government institute with a college degree from an esteemed European university. Last week, however, he was an unhappy patient with an acute case of tonsillitis. Given that when he decided to see a doctor it was way past midnight, and because a private hospital was closer to him than his district’s government hospital, Abdulrazzaq opted for the costly private option.
The doctor prescribed him the following: painkillers; gargling solution; lozenges; vitamin C pills; and an antibiotic injection. The bill he paid came up to KD 40. Abdulrazzaq thought the prescribed medication must be extremely effective, given the amount he paid for it. But most of the prescribed drugs were unnecessary for him, says Dr. Mohammad of the Ministry of Health, who spoke under the condition of confidentiality.
What many hospitals sell to you is not the medication, but a nicely-packaged, colorfully-wrapped psychology. You feel that you are getting the best treatment because you are buying expensive medicine, but with tonsillitis, your body can fight it on its own. You just need painkillers to ease the pain, salt water to gargle with, and three days of staying warm, drinking soup and making sure you hydrate your body well,” he says.
Dr Mohammad explained that the dwindling faith in the public healthcare system can easily be restored doing simple superficial things, like refurbishing seating halls and giving colorful packages for the medication instead of the white plastic envelopes used in most government clinics.
When people complain about the skyrocketing bills they have to pay in private hospitals, they don’t realize that they are actually asking for it in a way. They want instant relief, immediate gratification, and we in government clinics aren’t good at this,” he admits.
Many people have recently began to turn to private hospitals rather than going to the government ones. The reasons include shorter waiting queues in private hospitals, as opposed to government ones; nice staff; and reportedly more effective medicine. It is this last allegation that Dr. Mohammad calls “packaged psychology,” which he believes to be creating unfair opinions towards the governmental health care system.
I am not speaking in defense of our government’s health care system; it has numerous flaws and it needs a makeover. I am just trying to show you how we are easily fooled by looks. We love the fancy hotel-like treatment,” he notes.
That being said, the doctor is quick to note that not all doctors at private clinics are scamming people into buying more medicine. “There are many things that make the private sector better than the government sector. The availability of medicine is much more reliable in private clinics.
In government clinics, some drugs are only given to nationals because of their high price in comparison to the small fee you pay the clinic. In private clinics, however, everyone is equal as long as they have the money. Nationals or expatriates, they’re all alike because at the end of the day, they’re all paying the bill for the clinic,” he says.
He notes that there are many doctors in private clinics who over-medicate for various reasons. In some independent private clinics, he explained, some doctors make deals with pharmacies, usually in the same building, to get a yearly commission by sending their clients to a specific pharmacy.