An initiative to improve the quality of health care that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides to refugees has generated a level of enthusiasm uncommon for such procedural matters. At an inaugural event in the Zarqa area of Jordan at the end of June, doctors, managers and patients all considered the Family Health Team Approach (FHTA) to be an extremely positive development.
The new approach, which has been launched at Zarqa and Amir Hassan health-care centres, is based on teams of medical professionals who work together to serve groups of families. Traditionally, patients were treated by a much wider group of doctors, but now families will always see the same medical professionals, helping build mutual trust and offer more personalized service.
Staff at the Zarqa and Amir Hassan health centres began preparing for the new approach long before the launch. They undertook extensive outreach in their communities beforehand; as Fayzeh Ghanem, a senior staff nurse in Zarqa, explained, “It took a long time and we put a lot of effort into communicating with residents and staff members” to ensure that residents and patients understood and welcomed the changes.
Um Hassan, a Zarqa resident, was invited to speak at the launch of the health centre there about the new approach. “The community is excited because we will get better service,” she said. “The doctors and their teams will know our families better. They will be more familiar with our medical history and know more about our risks of inherited diseases.”
The chief medical officer at the Amir Hassan health centre chief is Dr Haytham Abd-Razeq, who explained the benefits of the new approach, under which the same medical teams will follow patients from birth. “This has led to a new quality of work – health awareness and prevention of communicable diseases has improved,” he said. It represents an important shift in the paradigm: “In the past, we focused on the disease, but now we focus on the patient first and then the disease.”
Health centre staff have also welcomed the new development, since the FHTA also improves the efficiency of health services through technological improvements, including electronic filing and appointment systems. Electronic filing reduces the amount of time staff spend on administrative work, allowing more contact time with patients.
A,senior staff nurse at the Amir Hassan health centre, Tasneed Abu-Kalbein, explained that “after applying the Family Health Team Approach, work has become more organized because it is divided more fairly between the nurses. Communication between nurses and patients has improved, and you can see better relationships developing between patients and staff.”
Hassan Abu-Hilal, the Amir Hassan pharmacist, added that the health centre itself has become more organized. “In the past, people were arriving at the clinic all at the same time, and it was chaos. Now they are distributed across the day and everything is organized.”
A team effort
At the launch in Zarqa, UNRWA Deputy Director for Programmes Mike Oswald called the FHTA a “great development” and praised the staff and local communities for its success. Already in effect at six health centres in Jordan, he said, “it has received universally positive feedback from beneficiares. It has improved health care and the quality of service – this is innovation.” All 24 UNRWA health centres in Jordan will begin implementing the FHTA by 2015.
Eng. Ahmad Dabash, the UNRWA Chief Area Officer in Zarqa, also emphasized how many people had contributed to implementing and launching the FHTA. “All the staff were involved,” he said, “including the engineering staff – they repainted every inch of the medical centre. We thought they were even going to paint the staff.”