Many healthcare systems around the world struggle to cope with the often complex and challenging needs of an ageing population. While Qatar's population remains relatively young, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) recognized the need for strategic planning to fulfill the healthcare needs of older people while also promoting healthy ageing through promotive and preventive practices to help support longer and healthier lives. In line with the National Health Strategy's Healthy Ageing focus, the Ministry recently collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) on a joint workforce training workshop for the WHO Integrated Care for Older People (ICOPE) program.
ICOPE is a public health integrated care program for people above the age of 60, which aims to support the independence of older people living in society. The WHO Guidelines on Integrated Care for Older People (ICOPE) propose evidence-based recommendations for health care professionals to prevent, slow, or reverse declines in the physical and mental capacities of older people. The two-day workshop included multidisciplinary teams from both Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) who were given an in-depth briefing on the program's benefits. The teams also engaged in extensive discussions on how to adapt and implement the program most effectively for their patient population.
Dr. Hanadi Al Hamad, National Lead for Healthy Ageing for the Qatar Ministry of Public Health and Medical Director of Rumailah Hospital and the Qatar Rehabilitation Institute at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) explained that a key focus of the program is to establish person-centered assessment and care pathways in primary care and improved integration with secondary care to provide specialized care more efficiently when needed.
"The benefit of ICOPE is that is based on a simple yet practical model that includes screening for particular indicators to assess the health and social care needs of older persons to develop their personalized care plan," said Dr. Al Hamad. "The introduction of ICOPE in Qatar represents an amazing opportunity to introduce a more community and patient-centered approach that aligns healthcare with social services within a coordinated and integrated model of care." The WHO ICOPE concept is based on the recognition that as people age, their intrinsic capacity (which is the sum of their physical and mental capacities) tends to decline while their health issues can become more chronic and complex. The domains of intrinsic capacity include cognitive decline, limited mobility, malnutrition, visual impairment, hearing loss, and depressive symptoms. The presence of multiple chronic conditions at the same time (Multimorbidity) also becomes increasingly prevalent with age. As a result, older people may develop geriatric syndromes such as frailty, urinary incontinence, and a propensity to falls. As these challenges do not fit into discrete disease categories, they are therefore not always addressed sufficiently in typical healthcare models.
"By screening for common geriatric syndromes early on, we can address potential health risks that an older person may face and try to implement preventive safeguards that reduce the risks of severe illness or injury where possible. Our goal is to support the increase in Healthy Life-Years (HLYs) for the over 60 years old population in the future with practical measures," added Dr. Al Hamad.
"The ICOPE Guidelines are designed to facilitate countries' efforts to improve the health and well-being of older populations, and to move closer to the achievement of universal health coverage for all at all ages," said Dr. Samar ElFeky, Regional Adviser of Health Promotion and Social Determinats of Health and Regional Focal Person for Health of Older People, WHO Regional Office of Eastern Mediterranean. "This program requires the support and participation of professionals from the medical, community health, and social sectors to enable more seamless interaction and integration between different service providers. We were therefore pleased to see the strong engagement from HMC and PHCC during the two-day workshop." "Qatar takes great pride in adopting international best practice solutions, such as ICOPE, but we always endeavor to adapt the approach to better fit local needs and expectations. The workshop organized with the WHO ICOPE experts provided an ideal forum for HMC and PHCC staff to review and tailor the program for Qatar. Such programs and joint educational sessions are essential to the effective local implementation of better integrated care for older adult patients across the public sector healthcare system, from primary to secondary care," said Dr. Ameera Mohammed Al Khuzaei, Community Medicine Consultant, Primary Health Care Corporation.
Dr. Al Hamad added that Qatar's older population has benefited over the past two decades from a concerted effort by the government and public healthcare sector to provide more age-appropriate, holistic healthcare, which has contributed to the increased life general expectancy among citizens to nearly 81 years. "We have worked hard to develop services that are targeted to the needs of this vulnerable population group. Better access to healthcare services and health education have been key contributing factors in improving the management of most of the major diseases typically experienced at older ages, and this has led to improving the length and quality of life of many older people."
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