UNRWA’s new person-centred health service “excellent”, say patients

“This new system is excellent. The time that nurses and doctors devote to me and my family is much more than before. I hope the change is permanent”, says Amina Ahmad, a patient at UNRWA’s Rashidieh clinic in southern Lebanon.

Amina is talking about the Family Health Team, central to the reform of UNRWA’s health programme currently being rolled out in all five of the Agency’s fields of operation.

A person-centred health care system

The Family Health Team is a person-centred approach devoted to improving the quality and delivery of public primary health care to the Palestine refugees served by UNRWA.

The reform has introduced a shift in focus. Previously, care was provided to treat specific ailments without taking into consideration the comprehensive health status of an individual, nor of his or her family history. Now, care is now delivered by multi-disciplinary medical teams who are delivering comprehensive and continuous care to their patients and families registered with them.

One family, one family health team

Each Family Health Team is made up of at least one doctor, a nurse and a clerk. Each team manages approximately the same number of family files; this has improved patient flow in the clinic and equalised the workload among staff.

“When I used to come to the clinic before and ask where is the doctor that treated me before, there would be another doctor. This is not right”, says Juliette Audi, a patient at the Rashidieh health centre.

“Now, the doctor knows us, he knows how to treat us”, she adds . “He knows when we first came to the clinic the first time, and he will remember us next time.”

Series of improvements

As part of the Family Health Team approach, UNRWA has introduced several operational changes to improve efficiency in the clinics. These include the reorganisation of staff to work in teams, the use of appointment systems, the introduction of e-health – an electronic management system for patient files – and physical modifications in the clinics to facilitate patients’ access.

Reflecting on the reorganisation in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun health centre, a nurse explains, “The system is faster because the patient can receive various treatments [in a single session from his/her team]; and the patient has more time with the doctor.”

“No time is wasted”

The increase in consultation time is linked to applying an appointments system, which appears to be popular. Back in Rashidieh, Ahmad Fahed says, “Now a worker can go to the clinic without losing a day’s pay. He makes an appointment over the phone, he comes and he goes back to work”.

Ola, a young mother being treated at Nuseirat health centre in Gaza, echoes Ahmad’s comments. “It is easier to organise my work at home; I also like that the same doctor has my file and knows my medical history. No time is wasted.”

Ongoing expansion in 2013

UNRWA is rolling out the Family Health Team approach in all 139 of its clinics in five fields. By the end of 2012, FHT had expanded to 36 clinics, mostly in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon. Unfortunately, ongoing hostilities in Syria have halted the expansion of the FHT approach there.

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