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Need to reform education, health sectors stressed

January 28, 2013

KARACHI, Jan 27: Pakistan’s education and health sectors require immediate reformation based on global demands and indigenous needs, said speakers at an international symposium on Sunday.

Titled ‘Education for service and patient safety in health profession’, the event was the concluding session of the three-day Association for Excellence in Medical Education Conference 2013 held at the Aga Khan University.

“Pakistan needs to focus on improving healthcare with special focus on family medicine. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that family medicine doctors can help save a great deal of money, especially in areas of preventative health care and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes,” said Prof Valerie Wass, head of the School of Medicine at Keele University in the United Kingdom.

A focus on family medicine, according to Prof Wass, could help Pakistanis allocate resources to other important areas, such as research and development, which had largely remained ignored.

Sharing his ideas, Prof Zulfiqar Bhutta, chairperson for the Women and Child Health at the AKU, said that ripples of change were already being felt among medical students who were using technology to their advantage.

“Students equipped with iPads and other devices in classrooms now have instantaneous access to information that enhances their learning experience,” he said while highlighting the need for reforming health and education systems keeping in view local needs.

The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Nadeem ul Haque, said that the need to make use of resources efficiently became more crucial in such countries as Pakistan which had limited resources.

“Change is long overdue, not just in health care but across the board. We have limited resources and we cannot afford to give more money [to health care] because people just do not pay taxes,” he said, adding that roughly 0.5 per cent of the GDP was allocated to health care whereas over two per cent of the GDP was lost in dealing with the energy crisis. “We cannot just change in microcosm but we need to change everywhere,” he said.

Giving presentations on education for service and patient safety the other day, speakers informed the audience about several methods of improving patient safety that included making the subject part of medical education.

A reference was made to a report according to which medical errors were the eighth leading cause of death in patients in the United States. The estimated national cost of medical errors was found up to $29 billion.

“In teaching students [about patient safety] one must recognise the limits of their influence,” said Professor Janet Grant of the Open University for Institute of Educational Technology, the UK.

According to her, teaching patient safety in theory was not a substitute for practical role models. “There is no accurate way to assess the understanding medical students have of patient safety till you do not assess their actions once they begin practice. Still, it is critical to create a culture of patient safety and care in medical professionals from the onset of their education into the field,” she said.

The head of the School of Medicine at Keele University in the United Kingdom, Professor Valerie Wass, focused her presentation on a greater need for social accountability. Her presentation titled ‘Integrating professionalism into the curriculum to foster a culture of patient safety’ touched on several key factors, including the importance of institutions to define professionalism in providing quality education for quality service.

“Death due to an overdose during chemotherapy, having the wrong leg amputated and a drug-mix up during a minor surgery have all made headlines and caused grave concern in the US,” said Professor Ara Tekian, Associate Dean and Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

“I believe identifying role models who promote zero tolerance for medical errors is one method [to improve patient safety],” he said. “In doing so [identifying role models] others can learn from practice rather than just theory.”

He also suggested allowing students access to speak with families who were willing to share their tragic experiences. “This will help students to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions,” she said.

Professor Umar Ali Khan, Pro Vice Chancellor at Isra University, Islamabad; Professor Stephen Lindgren, president of the World Federation for Medical Education; Professor John Boulet, Vice President for Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates; Professor Somaya Hosny, Dean for Faculty of Medicine at Suez Canan University; Professor Mohamed Elhassan, Medical Education Specialist at Jazan University were among the speakers.