Manama: Qatar spent 500 million Qatari riyals (Dh503.1 million) on overseas healthcare and treatment for 950 patients in 2009, the country's National Health Strategy (NHS) said.

"Because certain specialty services are unavailable in Qatar, some citizens are sent abroad for treatment and every year, higher sums are spent on their medical care," the NHS said.

However, according to the country's medical and health strategy document, the treatment abroad process has room for improvement through cost efficiency and management, which can be done without limiting access to care, Qatari daily The Peninsula reported on Monday.

"Treatment abroad is a key element of the scope of care in Qatar today and an increasing number of patients are being referred for treatment outside the country, with a majority of cases being elective," the document said.

According to the statistics in the document, more patients have been going abroad for elective treatments than for urgent cases.

In 2002, a total of 398 patients went abroad for elective medical care while only 80 patients left for emergency care.

The trend has continued over the years, with 107 elective and 422 emergency patients travelling abroad in 2003, 321 elective and 78 emergency patients in 2004, 414 elective and 106 emergency patients in 2005, 463 elective and 163 emergency in 2006, 575 elective and 148 emergency in 2007 and 730 and 227 respectively in 2008.

According to the document, up to 70 per cent of costs are for non-medical items such as flights and accommodation. This figure is fuelled by the fact that when patients travel abroad, the whole family may travel along with them, often limiting efforts to control cost.

"No prior agreement is made with the provider of care regarding likely treatment costs and many cases are supported by multiple alternative funding sources, resulting in limited control of treatment and a likely increase in expense," the document stated.

The NHS recommended the establishment of a database containing selected preferred healthcare providers in order to ensure the inclusion of the highest-quality centres, providing follow-up care in Qatar and negotiating volume contracts to control costs.

The recommendations also include making travel arrangements through a single source to realise better price points on airfares and hotels, defining the eligibility for treatment abroad and a transparent application and approval process.