Sample Term Paper on Health Care System in Saudi Arabia

Health Care System in Saudi Arabia


The Saudi government has placed high priority on the advancement of health care services from the national level to the grass roots level. As one of the rapid growing economies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producer in the world. The revenue from oil has enabled the kingdom to diversify its public health care system to cover the entire nation. In recent decades, Saudi citizens have experienced improved health care, even though a few problems restrain them from achieving their desirable levels of health care. The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed Saudi Arabia among top world countries with excellent health care systems. Medical health records have become an essential part in ensuring consistency, as well as continuity in care. Consistencies in the use of technology in health care provision have eliminated confusion among users and enhanced accuracy in all levels. This study will focus on the growth of Saudi health care system, challenges, and opportunities.

Background of Health Care in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, health care services have expanded and improved extensively for the last few decades. Emphasis on prevention of illnesses and environmental health began in 1925 when the public health department was established in Saudi Arabia through an order from King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (Al-sharqi 450). Prior to 1925, Saudi citizens did not have access to quality and efficient healthcare services. Healthcare professionals were few while financial resources were inadequate to afford the required equipment. Religious and cultural practices also created impediments to proper healthcare system. Many Saudi citizens sought traditional medical providers to cure their illnesses.

When the Kingdom was founded in 1932, health insurance was illegal, since it contravened sharia law on issues such as al gharar (uncertainty), al maisir (gambling), and riba (interest) (The Report 85). However, an Islamic insurance was initiated in the 1970s, and religious scholars announced that it was applicable to all Saudi citizens, since it conformed to the sharia law. Various companies followed suit and established their own insurance companies. Later on, the Saudi government came up with a state-owned insurance firm that became popular throughout the Kingdom.

When Saudi Arabia began the commercial production of oil, financial resource became abundant leading to increased spending on public services. The Ministry of Health (MOH) was formed in 1951, which coincided with the construction of various hospitals. Health services in public hospitals were free while a ‘fee’ was charged in the private hospitals. The Kingdom also offers free healthcare services to Muslims who flock into the country annually to visit Mecca and Medina, the holy cities (Alwadie 24). The government also established specialized hospitals to cater for specialized medical needs, such as mental health, and incurable diseases.

The rapid expansion of health care system in Saudi Arabia came with the advancement in health education, as well as training, which experienced the opening of numerous health institutions, nursing colleges, and medical schools. Saudi citizen began to enroll as undergraduates in medical education as early as 1980, as the government endeavored to establish structures to ensure quality training programs and a licensing system to health workers and facilities. The MOH also worked on merging the administration of dispensaries, health centers, and maternal and child health (MCH) into a single unit.

The need for continuity care led to the invention of medical records to enable health care providers to share patients’ information. In 1984, the health care department introduced the individual medical records, which was enclosed with family files with an aim of offering comprehensive health care to the community and families, as well as at individual levels (Alghamdi et al. 61). The retrieved data from the medical records assist in the assessment of quality in the health care, as well as providing vital information for short, medium, and long-term health care planning and intervention.

The Saudi government continued to offer free health services to Saudi citizens, as well as expatriates, until 1999, when it changed its health policy that would increase availability of the healthcare services, as well as attain uniformity with international medical health (Al-sharqi 452). The New Saudi Health System (NSHS) offered equality in access to health services in addition to boosting the quality of health services in Saudi Arabia. The policy, which came to action in 2002, required all Saudi citizens, as well as expatriates to acquire health insurance. The Saudi citizens continued to receive free healthcare services in public hospitals, or pay for health services in private facilities. To date, the policy has been extended to Saudi citizens who work in the private sector.



Current Health Care System in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest countries in the Middle East, and the presence of oil in the country has transformed the country, both economically and institutionally. Currently, the country’s total population is estimated to be around 26 million, making Saudi Arabia to have the largest population in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). The rapid growing population of young people is pushing the government to invest on healthcare sector to satisfy the growing population. Change in lifestyles has resulted to numerous preventable diseases, which require regular checkups and specialized care. Numerous investments on healthcare have been put in place with a vision of establishing a robust healthcare delivery system. Health information systems have been initiated across the Kingdom with a timeframe of up to five years.

The Saudi health care system covers the public, as well as several private health care entities, and the system is characterized by high living standards, housing, education, sanitation, hygiene practices, as well as preventive care (Alonazi 76). According to WHO, Saudi’s health care system is the best in the Middle East. The Kingdom of Saudi has endeavored to meet patients’ expectations through adopting national and international standards. Currently, the Kingdom can boast of 256 hospitals with the government hospitals having a bed capacity of 49,000 beds while the private hospitals have a bed capacity of 14,000 beds (Abdallah et al. 8). The Saudi government, through the MOH, funds the country’s health care system, although there are other agencies, such as The National Guard, as well as the Ministry of Interior, and that of Defense, contribute largely in offering health care to the population.

Other agencies, such as the Saudi Red Crescent Society provides emergency services in case of accidents through offering first aid and transporting injured patients to hospitals. The Saudi Arabian Airlines has its own health care facilities where its employees are offered health services at the expense of the company. The country’s universities, through medical colleges, offer curative services, as well as training program to students and staff. In addition, universities have collaborated with public and private research centers to undertake health research to enhance preventive and curative measures. Most of the health care providers in Saudi Arabia are expatriates. According to the MOH, 50% of nurses, as well as 80% of physicians, are foreigners (Alwadie 24).  The government prefers to employ foreigners to save on the cost of recruiting local people.

Health care services in Saudi Arabia are free to all citizens, as long as they are registered with the health insurance. According to the MOH statistics, the government is accountable for the operation at least 70% of all health care facilities in Saudi Arabia while 30% of the health care facilities are under the private organizations’ funding (Alonzi 76). The private sector offers health services through hospitals, laboratories, and physiotherapy centers. The private sector has expanded its investments through manufacturing of drugs, medical appliances, and maintenance of health care facilities within the Kingdom. The MOH is planning to initiate a private health insurance, which will cater for public-sector employees. The MOH has ensured that the health sector, both in public and private, has attained its goal of enhancing the health conditions of Saudi and non-Saudi citizens in the country through offering comprehensive preventive, as well as curative health services. Particular emphasis has been directed towards equitable and well-organized primary health care.

Use of technology has contributed significantly in the advancement of health care services in the Kingdom. Computerized provider order entry (CPOE) has been in operation in Saudi Arabia since the 1990s. CPOE involves a health informatics system, which allows health care providers to generate and manage orders to be utilized in medications and other services in the health care (Mantas and Hasman 207). The CPOE system is usually incorporated together with the patient information, which includes the outpatient robotic structure, as well as automated cabinet held in different nursing units. CPOE uses electronic data transfer, which enables health care professionals to access patient’s clinical data with ease. CPOE has been credited for reducing medical errors in the administration of drugs and continuity in offering patient care in different healthcare facilities.

Continuing medical education (CME) has been accepted in most hospitals in Saudi Arabia due to its capacity to develop and maintain professional skills while offering health services to patients. CME has become compulsory for medical professionals in Saudi Arabia in acquiring a license. CME has enabled medical knowledge to be produced fast, as medical professionals strive to keep up with the rising technology. The online CME has enabled health care providers to gain more knowledge without necessarily going to classes, and such knowledge has assisted in improving the quality of healthcare. The CME program is cost-effective, and allows health care providers to create pace while giving instructions (Alwadie 26). Most physicians and nurses in Saudi Arabia have acquired basic technology skills, which enable them to prosper in online education.

Both public and private medical facilities have continued to embrace electronic health registers (EHRs) to enhance reporting of electronic date and compliance to uniform data storage standards that enable them respond faster to reporting requirements and disease surveillance. Since the inception of EHRs around the globe, hospitals have saved lives of many patients through prevention of drug interactions, reducing errors in ordering of drugs, as well as reducing guesswork by physicians. For instance, the Sentara health care system was able to evade 117,400 potential medication errors that could have occurred due to medication bar-coding (Abdallah et al. 13).

Increase in the national income among the Saudi citizens has created positive impact on the health care system, as most people are capable of seeking medical services through public or private health insurance cover. The country is experiencing a population growth rate of almost 4%, which makes the government feel the pressure to provide equitable, cost-effective, and quality health services (Al-sharqi 449). Despite having free health care for all in Saudi Arabia, the rapid rise in medical expenses for foreigners compelled the government to shift from welfare to the concept of health insurance. In 2005, health insurance became compulsory for all foreigners working in Saudi Arabia. This was in conjunction with the Cooperative Health Insurance Act that was enacted in 2002, requiring all foreign employees to be compulsory insured (Borscheid and Haueter 368). Apart from improving the lives of Saudi citizens, the Kingdom’s insurance industry has transformed the country’s economy through premium contributions. The presence a few health insurance firms allows healthcare providers to minimize administration costs of dealing with different systems of insurance.

The growing population, coupled with an increasing life expectancy, has compelled the Kingdom to invest more on health care. The ageing population is in need of specific and expensive health services to maintain their health. In 2012, the MOH announced that it would spend SR7.2 billion ($1.92 billion) on health care, which would include the construction of at least 12 new hospitals that would accommodate 3,100 beds (The Report 304). The government has already made a plan to increase the number of hospitals in the coming years to accommodate the health needs of the growing population. In 2014, the MOH granted some contracts to private agencies to construct 34 new health care centers in several regions of the Kingdom while a plan is underway to construct 5 medical cities, as well as 132 hospitals (Saudi Arabia largest Gulf healthcare spender).

Challenges of Saudi Health Care System

Amid high population growth, in addition to change in lifestyles, Saudi Arabia’s healthcare services are under strain. Many people are questioning the quality of services in public hospitals, despite heavy investment on health infrastructure by the government. Access to health care, as well as rights to health, particularly to vulnerable groups, have been hindered by traditional, social, and cultural practices, which negatively affect the daily life of such groups in numerous aspects (Toebes, Ferguson, Markovic and Nnamuchi 190). For instance, Saudi women are traditionally restrained from engaging in sports and are not allowed to go public gyms. In addition, girls are not allowed to participate in physical education in schools. Such restrictions have denied women chances to exercise, making most of the women to become obese. Thus, women in Saudi Arabia are likely to contract illnesses that result from obesity, which is preventable.

Although migrant workers are required to have health insurance cover from their employers, most migrant domestic workers are not covered. Lack of adequate data concerning the number of migrant workers has made provision of health care services quite difficult, even as the Saudi government endeavors to treat everyone as equal in terms of healthcare (Toebes et al. 189). Migrant domestic workers encounter poor working conditions and improper treatment from their employers, which affect their health negatively. It has never been clear on whether private health insurance is compulsory to all migrant workers.

Although the CPOE has various benefits in the provision of health services, the system has been found to affect the workflow due to poor system design. Healthcare providers are blaming the system for disrupting the standards in hospital processes, in addition to increasing workload of the medical health providers. Poor designing of the CPOE system has also been blamed for increasing medical errors, where medical providers have been found to ignore the renewal icon that indicate a notice in electronic charts (Mantas and Hasman 208). Online CME has not been extended to rural areas, and this has made it had to health providers in such areas to receive certificates.

The global shortage of medical professionals has also hit Saudi Arabia, as the government has not invested enough on training of doctors and nurses. Some professionals from Saudi Arabia have migrated to Western countries to search for better opportunities, leaving a gap in the healthcare sector. The rapid rise in population and the growing number of elderly people requires additional professionals in the healthcare to meet the needs of each individual.  A scientific research should be conducted to investigate on how to improve health services in the country.

Recommendations to improve Health Care in Saudi Arabia

The government of Saudi Arabia has played a critical role in the advancement of health care system in the country. However, the role of private agencies in the Kingdom has been kept at minimum. Currently, no foreign firms are permitted to invest on outpatient clinics while insurance companies are restrained from investing on clinics. This is contrary to what other developed countries are doing in terms of advancing health care system. The government should review its laws and allow foreign investors to bring positive change to health care system. Many Saudi economic analysts would agree that the country has benefited from the return on investment, thus, there is a need to expand the private sector for real wealth creation and expansion in healthcare services.

Based on the experience in Saudi hospitals, the CPOE system should be redesigned to enhance accuracy while inputting the order data. Redesigning would guarantee simplicity, consistency, active feedback, low human memorization, and effective use of system messages. Use of EHRs should be expanded in all hospital in the Kingdom to substitute paper-based medical records that are difficult to read and outdated. The MOH should work on expanding online CME throughout the country to enhance knowledge on health care to medical providers. Traditional and cultural practices should be reviewed to allow law and customs develop together to eliminate discriminatory elements. Culture should accommodate change in people’s lifestyles, as culture has been a hindrance to women’s health in terms of exercise. To reduce high levels of obesity, girls should be allowed to participate in physical education while women should be encouraged to go to gyms to enhance their health conditions.


Owing to a rapid growth in population, Saudi Arabia has endeavored to enhance public satisfaction through provision of high quality health care services. The government, through the MOH, own and manage most of the hospitals in the country, where all Saudi citizens receive free health services in public hospitals. The private sector has also played a vital role in the provision of health services. The healthcare system has faced numerous challenges, which have resulted to poor provision of health services. Traditions and cultural practices still create impediments in healthcare provision while lack of proper technological designs has resulted to more medical errors. Implementation of technology in all healthcare facilities across the Kingdom will assist in enhancing patient care and provision of quality health service. Reviewing the existing CPOE would boost accuracy while implementing CME and EHRs across the Kingdom would improve quality and increase satisfaction to patients. To minimize migration of healthcare professionals to Western countries, the Saudi government should enhance employment regulations, and offer attractive remunerati

Works Cited

“Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Healthcare Overview.”Colliers International, First Quarter (2012). Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

“Saudi Arabia largest Gulf healthcare spender.” Maktoob. Saudi Gazette, April 5, 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Abdallah, Samir Mahmoud A., et al. “Designing and Implementing of Electronic Health Record System in Ksa using Sql & Asp. Net.” Innovative Systems Design and Engineering 6.1 (2015): 8-21. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Alghamdi, Amal H., et al. “Assessment Of The Completeness And Quality Of Medical Records Used In The Primary Health Care Centers: Case Study In Jeddah, Western Region, Saudi Arabia.” International Journal Of Academic Research 6.4 (2014): 60-64. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Alonazi, Wadi B. “Quality Of Life In Tertiary Healthcare Services: Lessons From The Saudi Arabia Accreditation System.” Quality Of Life: A Multi-Disciplinary Journal Of Food Science, Environmental Science & Public Health 4.3/4 (2013): 74-84. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Al-sharqi, Omer Zayyan. “Healthcare Development In The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia, Australia And The USA: A Comparative Analysis.” Journal Of King Abdulaziz University: Economics & Administration 26.2 (2012): 447-22. Business Source Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Alwadie, Adnan D. “Online Continuing Medical Education In Saudi Arabia.” Performance Improvement 52.1 (2013): 24-28. Business Source Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Borscheid, Peter, and Niels V. Haueter. World Insurance: The Evolution of a Global Risk Network. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Mantas, J, and Arie Hasman. Informatics, Management and Technology in Healthcare. Amstedam: IOS Press, 2013. Print.

The Report: Saudi Arabia 2013. London: Oxford Business Group, 2013. Print.

Toebes, Brigit, Rhoda Ferguson, Milan M. Markovic, and Obiajulu Nnamuchi. The Right to Health. a Multi-Country Study of Law, Policy and Practice. Den Haag : T.M.C. Asser Press 2014, 2014. Internet resource.