Glaucoma awareness 
in Lebanon

The Beirut Eye & ENT Specialist Hospital were winners of the 2018 ESCRS Practice Management Marketing Competition. General Manager Michael Cherfan explains why

Colin Kerr

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2018

The Beirut Eye & ENT Specialist Hospital (BESH) is widely regarded as one of the top specialty hospitals in the Middle East & North African region. BESH aspires to provide excellence in both medical and surgical care while operating in line with the highest international standards.

BESH’s reputation for being a reference institution is rooted in the quality of medical professionals who choose to practise at the hospital. Faculty members are graduates from top North American/European medical institutions who seek to bring the latest medical thinking and techniques back to the region. As such, BESH has succeeded in coupling the country’s best eye and ENT care specialists – comprised of ophthalmology and otorhinolaryngology surgeons, optometrists, technicians and a qualified nursing team – with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

Maintaining high service quality is a feat in any hospital anywhere in the world; however, it is even more so in Lebanon where medical institutions face a range of socio-economical obstacles.

Historically, the Lebanese healthcare industry has always been one of the country’s most valuable assets. Having Arabic-speaking, “western”-educated doctors with access to modern healthcare equipment and infrastructure was, and still is, a recipe for success. However, of late, a poor economy, a gravely-in-debt state and an outdated social security system have put pressure on healthcare providers and middle-to-low income patients who struggle to afford quality healthcare. State-backed third-party payors can constitute 50% of a hospital’s admission portfolio and have long payment cycles (up to three years). As such, an institution’s ability to invest in new technologies, retain resources and maintain high-standard medical services is severely limited.

It is not all bad, however! Despite the industry’s situation, BESH believes there is room for improvement on other fronts: continued medical education, staff training and patient education/awareness. In 2018, BESH organised the first Lebanese glaucoma awareness campaign as part of the World Glaucoma Week (March 12-18, 2018). The key objectives of the campaign were to generate awareness about this prevalent disease and raise the hospital’s CSR profile.

Visually-attractive booths were erected at two separate malls and free glaucoma screenings were offered. The staff distributed information leaflets/flyers and glaucoma simulation goggles were utilised to help visitors realise the potential effects of the condition.

The twist to our campaign was our ability to leverage digital media (e.g. social media, online influencers) to generate a buzz around the topic, invite patients to the stands, and as a result, help us access a chunk of the population we would not typically reach.

It was impossible to track the exact number of people who visited the stands, but more than 1,000 leaflets/flyers were distributed. We were able to gather the information for 665 patients that underwent a screening. Approximately 250 patients required further follow-up, 85% of which visited BESH for a follow-up and/or treatment.

The campaign cost approximately $10,000 (€8,826), sponsored in full by a large pharmaceutical company. This sum included the booths’ production, space rental, marketing/designer fees and all the marketing collaterals. Unfortunately, patients were not flagged upon registration at BESH so a return on investment figure cannot be predicted.

The campaign was a win-win-win situation benefiting our sponsor, our hospital and most importantly, the public. It was an honour to receive the first prize for the practice management competition at the 2018 ESCRS. Furthermore, the World Glaucoma Association, the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health and the Lebanese Order of Physicians all recognised the event as a success. We plan to run a bigger, better campaign next year and hope to make it more of a national affair in collaboration with other institutions.