The average hospital physician in the Ministry of Public Health is paid $50 a month. In this setting “under-the-table” charges for clinical services are common, and physicians usually leave the hospital by lunch to attend to their private clinics. This initiative pays physicians up to $500 a month with the expectations that they will work a full day, provide 24-hour emergency coverage, and not charge patients. Eighteen months of experience suggest that these expectations are being met. Resources are also used for remodeling facilities, purchasing equipment and supplies, and providing essential medicines. The management standards developed are designed to make rational use of these scarce resources.
Prerequisites for the Initiative
Two key prerequisites for starting the Hospital Management Initiative were:
- Identifying where standards had to be developed: REACH has assisted the Ministry of Public Health to identify the standards that must be developed: responsibilities of hospitals to the community, patient care (clinical care), human resource management, management systems, environmental health, and leadership and management.10 “Areas of Standards for Hospitals in Afghanistan” shows the standards that have been or are to be developed. (See sidebar at left.)
- Essential Package of Hospital Services: To ensure that donor support does not stimulate a proliferation of hospitals and high-tech equipment that are not appropriate or sustainable for Afghanistan, REACH has been helping the Ministry of Public Health define the levels of hospitals (district, provincial, regional), the populations they serve, the services they offer, and the equipment, staff, supplies, and pharmaceuticals they need. The result was the publication of the Essential Package of Hospital Services, which defines these for each of the three levels of hospitals in the country, in 2005. This package will provide guidance for Afghanistan’s hospitals for the coming decade, much as the Basic Package of Health Services has done for primary healthcare services. The hospital package will also support long-term planning and help the Ministry make the best use of donor assistance for redeveloping the hospital sector.
Developing and Implementing Standards
Standards-based management begins by identifying existing clinical guidelines and standards developed by American or international specialty societies. Specialist consultants in each clinical area with many years’ experience in Afghanistan (some of them Afghan-American physicians) are contracted to develop these standards and then adapt them to the Afghan context, in consultation with physicians in Afghanistan.
For example, standards for acute abdominal pain had to be adapted to a situation where CAT scans and ultrasounds are not readily available, and the lack of electrolyte laboratory capacity in hospitals stimulated physicians to adapt standards for shock, and fluid and electrolyte balance that do not rely on knowing electrolyte levels. The standards development teams aimed to raise the standards of Afghan hospitals to a realistic extent but not set the bar so high that improvement was unattainable.
After the standards were developed, clinicians from Afghan hospitals reviewed and revised the standards to ensure that they were appropriate. This review also served as a means of training because the participants were able and eager to question the contracted expert about the standards in developed countries and the evidence supporting those standards. Once the standards are revised, a workshop is held to introduce them to hospital staff. The hospital teams then develop an action plan for introducing the standards into their facilities.
Quality improvement teams at each of the five hospitals take responsibility for shepherding the action plans through implementation. An advisor visits each hospital quarterly to review progress, assess barriers, and help hospital staff develop ways to overcome problems and accelerate standards implementation. During the mentor’s first visit after new standards have been introduced, he performs a baseline assessment of the hospital’s current compliance with the standards. This serves as a benchmark for future measurement of progress in meeting the standards.