Dato’ Dr Jacob Thomas is a medical doctor with extensive experience in hospital management and administration and is an expert in medical travel and tourism. He is a Councilor of the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) which is an accredited member of ISQua.
He is currently the President of the Asian Hospital Federation and the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) and also a member of the Consultative Panel of Healthcare sector of the Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC). He is also a member of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council. In 2012, he was appointed President of the Asian Hospital Federation.
Philippines Health and Wellness Travel had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Jacob Thomas in order to share with our readers his expertise. His answers reveal insights about his experience in medical travel in Malaysia, and have implications on how the Philippines can learn from Malaysia in developing its own medical travel program.
Philippines Health and Wellness Travel (PHWT): Please share with us briefly how the Malaysian Society for Quality and Health (MSQH) helps hospitals get accredited–what process does a hospital have to go through to be accredited by MSQH?
Dato Jacob Thomas (DJT): MSQH does an initial briefing, orientation and training for key staff Quality Leaders of a hospital. This will allow them to efficiently perform a Self Assessment before the final MSQH audit. Separate training sessions can, if requested, be given to doctors, nurses, facility managers etc. This initial briefing is part of the Total Accreditation fee.
PHWT: There are hospital administrators/owners who don’t seem to understand the value of accreditation. Did you have a similar challenge in Malaysia?
DJT: In Malaysia we had quite some resistance to going for Hospital Accreditation but this has somewhat lessened and is more acceptable now. We found champions from the various groups/peers, nurses, doctors and even some Department Heads; their input and leadership helped many to realize and understand the benefits of accreditation.
It was a slow process of making owners and others realize the benefits of medical tourism. Much of the initial resistance has changed to belief and support when the benefits were understood.
PHWT: Accreditation is really about improving a hospital’s standards so that, ultimately, the patients are the ones that benefit. What are some of these benefits?
DJT: The benefits are mainly felt by the patients and this encourages them to seek treatment in accredited hospitals. Patient safety is improved. This includes patient safety in areas like medication safety; surgical safety; and the qualification, credentialing, and privileging of doctors.
The patient became the center of a hospital’s focus; every staff became knowledgeable about and understood how and why things were done in a particular way; they knew that processes and procedures must be followed for the sake of the patient’s health and safety.
Hospitals also benefit from accreditation. Overall hospital management and operations are improved. They become more efficient because everyone is informed about how to do things properly. There are policies set for all to understand the various processes.
Staff and doctors also know that they need to practice “safer care”. Insurance companies also refer their clients to these hospitals. This is a significant boost in revenue as more than 50 % of patients in Malaysian private hospitals have some form of health insurance. There have also been studies to show that Medico Legal cases are less in accredited hospitals.
PHWT: There are cynics who think that accreditation is a “marketing gimmick”. What are your thoughts on this?
DJT: Yes there are those who say it’s about marketing. However, we must remember that when accreditation is achieved and its standards are implemented, patients are safer and are cared for better. We must also remember that hospital owners and CEOs must maintain and insist on the standards required and set by the accreditation—for the benefit of the patients. If they don’t do that, then the accreditation process would be a waste and be just another paper certificate.
Doctors and their staff also discover that owning and maintaining the standards help prevent many of the pitfalls and legal issues in healthcare. Insurance companies also use accredited hospitals as their preferred healthcare provider.
PHWT: What incentives does the Malaysian government provide to Malaysian hospitals that get MSQH accreditation?
DJT: The Malaysian Government gives Tax Rebates–to private hospitals–equal to the amount spent in achieving any approved international accreditation. This support and push by the Ministry of Health (that licenses and regulates healthcare) and the Minister himself, encourages hospital administrators to go for accreditation. Owners and hospital boards are also encouraged to push for it too. They don’t want to be left out from the elite group of hospitals.
PHWT: What in your opinion are the health challenges that Malaysians and Filipinos have in common, and what do you think can these two countries do cooperatively to somehow resolve those challenges?
DJT: Both the Malaysian Government and the Philippine Government say that they are unable to sustain providing the current either free or heavily subsidized healthcare. There are discussions and plans being undertaken by the Malaysian MOH to look at ways in which a better yet affordable and accessible healthcare system can be introduced
The Philippines is a step ahead and has introduced PhilHealth since some years now. There might have been some deficiencies and appropriate modifications have been put in place. I feel that the system is in place and the lessons learnt could be.
Valuable sharing is possible for both countries. No one model will be suitable for every country but they can be adopted with the necessary modifications to suit each one. Special focus needs to be given to caring for our aging population in all new healthcare plans.