Healthcare - Closing the gap

August 15, 2012

Media and journalism are known to have a profound impact on people’s opinions and attitudes towards current events, the government and upcoming issues. This means that they have a major responsibility towards the people and government alike.

A deficiency in the channels of information could create unnecessary havoc, and smart presentation of issues could contribute to diverting public opinion. Despite the varying roles of state media, which should adhere to the government policies and represent them, and private media, that is expected to provide a more analytical and critical view of national issues and events, both are expected to uphold a sufficient understanding of various perspectives and the topic at hand.

Some columnists and journalists are well read and truly impressive in their arguments. Others fall short of the expected standards. The Ministry of Health held a conference on Health Vision 2050 in May. Many individuals and writers had criticised the conference. I am not at all surprised by the criticism as the Ministry of Health is never right; no big deal.

What interested me are the questions that arose before and after the conference, admittedly from within and outside the ministry. Could these be a result of lack of communication? Or lack of informed journalism?

Maybe journalists should be educated in the health fields, and maybe our institutions should have a more refined public communication strategy, not to be confused with public education. Public communication strategy should focus on informing the public on issues, decisions and plans of the government, and create a dialogue to understand people’s opinions and act on them.

One criticism was questioning how a plan can be developed now to be implemented in 2050, and how the future can be predicted. Needless to say, planning is an essential function of any organisation, and with the rising cost of healthcare, increased number of patients and aging of society, one needs to forecast the health system requirements of staffing, supplies, which services to prioritise, etc.

No less than 20 years are required to train a consultant, and countries project their needs of physicians, specialists and surgeons based on their population projections. Another point was raised on the current status of health services; and this issue was addressed extensively in the conference.

I would imagine that better presence of local media representatives in the conference, and having them more engaged in the sessions and follow-up events would have bridged the gap between the hard work that was put in place, and the mediocre reception of the society and educated elite.

One suggestion that was raised consistently is assigning a spokesperson for each ministry or establishment - an individual who is sufficiently informed on technical issues and is authorised to speak on behalf of the institution. Having said that, I am confident that competent experts are available in Oman to address this issue in a strategic and comprehensive manner.