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Defining the pathway to definitive care

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Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC) Abu Dhabi
Interview with Dr Anton Decker, President, Mayo Clinic International

Towards the end of 2019, Dr Anton Decker was appointed as the President of Mayo Clinic International. He came into this new role just before the pandemic hit, and in a recent interview with Omnia Health Magazine, he shared that Mayo Clinic was prepared to face this challenge head-on.

“There’s a saying that goes, “you should expect the unexpected”,” said Dr Decker. “So, when the unexpected happened, thanks to Mayo Clinic’s deep expertise and resources, we were ready in every aspect to face the situation.”

The organisation had clinical protocols in place. It had enough people and expertise to deal with rare events like this, ranging from biologists, epidemiologists, pulmonologists, and intensivists. It had the equipment, technology, and supply chain protocols to tackle such situations. “So, when COVID-19 struck, as unfortunate as it was, we activated all of our protocols to deal with the unforeseen event,” he added.

At the same time, he stressed, Mayo Clinic tried to reach out to the rest of the world to share their knowledge while continuously learning about the new virus. As a result, there were several successful efforts in sharing vital information, which led to the acceleration of treatment protocols. Moreover, the institution continued to treat people for their chronic and other acute conditions during the pandemic.

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Dr Anton Decker

Destination medical centre

Mayo Clinic is a global healthcare organisation, and patients from over 130 countries visit their facilities in the U.S. every year. People visit Mayo Clinic for definitive answers, treatment, and hope, particularly when they have severe or complex conditions, said Dr Decker. The organisation’s fundamental value is that the needs of the patient come first, above everything else. As times are changing and technology has improved, Mayo Clinic has strived to bring its model of care closer to the patient.

He emphasised that the most crucial aspect of choosing a partner to reach more patients is to find someone who shares the same values. “As we looked for potential partners, we viewed our connection with the Middle East, and specifically the UAE, as we go back a long way. Therefore, it became easy to form a partnership with the UAE and SEHA, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, which led to the creation of our joint venture, the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC) Abu Dhabi. Together, we are committed to turning it into a. ‘Destination Medical Centre’.”

Mayo Clinic has three such centres in the U.S., and the SSMC is its fourth and only international destination medical centre. “One of the most delightful things about the journey is how much we are also learning. Not a day goes by that we don’t also learn something from the UAE, that we bring back home to help us,” he added.

A destination medical centre is where a patient goes to receive definitive care for severe and complex conditions. Recently, Dr Decker shared that a patient from Africa contacted Mayo Clinic for a recurrent tumour in their parotid gland. The patient had heard that there was a doctor in Arizona who knew how to treat the condition. “We did a virtual visit with the patient, and they are now coming to Arizona for the surgery,” he shared. “There are other such patients who we have been able to help increasingly in SSMC Abu Dhabi or in London, where we also have a clinic. So, we try and treat the patient where its most convenient for them and send them to the U.S. if necessary.”

SSMC has 50 expert physicians, nurses, and administrators from the U.S. The number is growing to help accelerate the journey for SSMC to become a destination medical centre. According to Dr Decker, SSMC’s priority is to create a definitive place to treat Emiratis. But the goal is to also attract patients from the broader region for medical tourism.

“SSMC is one of the most modern hospitals in the world. We are working together with the UAE on making sure that the processes and technology inside of it match the grandeur of the facility,” he added.

Connecting the dots

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine and forced the world to adapt very quickly. At SSMC, the number of telemedicine visits grew over 300 per cent compared to before the pandemic and made it easier for patients to get access to the “Mayo level of care”, highlighted Dr Decker. In addition, telemedicine was beneficial in providing remote intensive care services from the U.S. The acceleration also helped triage patients virtually first and determined the appropriate place for physical care, if needed.

When asked if the transition to telemedicine was challenging for physicians, he said they have become a lot more comfortable using the technology. In some cases, it has helped them develop a better relationship with a patient and is more accessible for follow-ups. It also allows physicians to see the patients sooner than they usually would, as it cuts down travel time. Moreover, there was a robust infrastructure around the physicians to support adoption.

He concluded: “We have a wonderful partnership with the UAE and are delighted that Mayo Clinic is building a definitive destination here for the entire region.” 

Coordinated care

When one is unwell, the last thing they need to worry about is how to go about making an appointment and finding the right doctor. Recently, SSMC launched the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Centre and the Adolescent Clinic to provide a coordinated care approach so that patients don’t need to go to several different places to solve a problem. For instance, at the IBD Centre, patients can consult with a surgeon, gastroenterologist, or a dietitian, in one place, which makes the process easier. SSMC has plans to launch more of these dedicated centres in the near future.

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.

TAGS: Leadership
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