To anyone who has anything to do with the U.S. healthcare system (what I am calling primary care and preventive care), here is a suggestion for you: visit the Iranian hospital in Dubai.

I recently traveled to Dubai to visit my elderly family, who lives in Iran. A week into the vacation, my Dad caught an earache. When it didn’t go away the next day, we became very concerned about the swelling and pain. He remembered that the former Shah of Iran had built a hospital in Dubai – way before anyone knew where Dubai was on a map. Interestingly enough, the hospital still stands today and, as there are many Iranian ex-pats living in Dubai, it is clearly labeled and located on most tourist maps.

After a five-minute ride from our hotel, we arrived at what looked to be a fairly modern, clean facility. Inside was an orderly line and information desk. When asked the purpose of our visit, we described Dad’s earache. We were asked to pay 80 dirhams (the equivalent of about $20) and were referred to office 16A to visit an ear, nose and throat specialist. We were given a numbered ticket and directions to the office. When we arrived at the modest waiting area, a nurse took our ticket and asked us politely to be seated. We were seen by a physician within 15 minutes. Not by a nurse or an orderly, but by a Cornell educated Persian doctor, fluent in Farsi, Arabic and English who thoroughly examined Dad, while explaining to me the nature of his ear infection – in plain English! He prescribed the medication he would need for the pain, an anti-inflammatory and antibiotics, and asked us to return the next afternoon for a preventive check-up. Just 50 feet down the hall there was a pharmacy, where they filled the prescription in five minutes. Dad also needed a shot, which was administered around the corner.

The entire ordeal lasted under 20 minutes and cost just $20. I have to be candid. I am often not that impressed with any post revolution Iranian processes. But this was a very impressive experience provided by a third-world country’s facility. The entire experience left me thinking, with all of our technological advances and business relationships, and with all of our access to the best of the best that healthcare has to offer, why can’t we bring world-class operating efficiency and effectiveness that already exists in many of our corporations into our primary healthcare facilities?

Has the bureaucracy become so thick, has the payee/payer relationship become so strained, and have we become such a litigious society that hospitals are more concerned about patient lawsuits than the quality of care that we have taken our eye off of what really matters – the patient experience in the healthcare system? Based on my recent experience in Dubai, I realize that we truly must fix our healthcare system before it becomes an even bigger disaster than it is today.

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