Annual scripts will ease waiting times

Repeat prescriptions that will allow patients with long-term conditions to only need to see doctors once a year will ease waiting lists but also need to be used with caution.

Few would seek to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in hospital. This is especially so for the thousands of patients in the UAE with long-term illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension, that can be kept in check by regular medication. These people stand to benefit the most from plans to issue repeat prescriptions for up to a year.

The benefits that will follow the decision by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) are wider than simply convenience to patients, although that is an important goal. It will also free up the schedules of medical staff who might otherwise be doing little more than rubber-stamping a renewed prescription, with the effect of shortening waiting times for others to see doctors and related specialists. It will also lower the cost of health care to the insurers of those with chronic diseases, which explains why insurance companies ought to be celebrating the change and why there have been grumblings of discontent among some doctors.

However, some of the doctors’ concerns have a legitimate basis that ought to be balanced against the benefits of convenience and cost. Diabetes, particularly, can sometimes be a difficult illness to keep in check, especially among the elderly, and failure to regulate the illness correctly can lead to avoidable but deadly complications, such as compromised blood flow to the extremities, leading to gangrene. A benefit of having to return to one’s doctor to get repeat prescriptions is the opportunity to undergo a checkup or even just the chance to ask questions of a kind that would be unlikely to have prompted a visit on their own but that could avert more serious complications.

There is a clear case for expert medical oversight of drug administration. As The National also reported yesterday, some prescription drugs, such as powerful antibiotics, are freely available at most pharmacies in the UAE. This easy access has wide-reaching consequences because overprescription and misuse – such as not continuing the course of antibiotics to the end, rather than just when symptoms desist – contribute to the growing number of antibiotic-resistant microbial strains. Haad reported that the resistance of 14 common pathogens have reached a “concerningly high level”.

Haad’s prescription decision warrants a measured response, accepting the benefits of annual scripts but acknowledging the caveats that apply.

Published: May 27, 2014 04:00 AM

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