Cut bureaucracy in healthcare system

In the fight against health-care costs, superfluous paperwork and pointless doctor's-office visits should be prime targets.

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Staying home sick in Abu Dhabi can be a real headache. Sniffling or running a temperature? The only way to miss work officially, especially if you work in the public sector, is to drag yourself to the doctor's office, fill out a Health Authority-Abu Dhabi form online, and have your fever certified. The process can take hours.

The aim of Haad's sick-leave attestation system, mandatory since March, is to eliminate abuse of sick-leave policies and keep people working. It's a laudable goal. But as flu season hits, it's also worth asking whether the benefits have been buried by bureaucracy.

The cost of health care in the UAE is going up, and insurers have warned in recent months that unless expenses come down, cover will have to fall. But before that happens, healthcare providers and insurers must consider ways to reduce costs. The first place to start is by doing away with unnecessary care. Every consultation, doctor visit and test has a price. When healthcare costs get too high, the pain will be passed to employees - through fees, reduced coverage or both.

In this regard, another programme Haad plans to roll out has promise. As The National reported yesterday, a new scheme will allow patients with manageable chronic illnesses to visit doctors less often to have prescriptions re-filled. Conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can be self-managed. Responsible patients do not need a new battery of tests every two months just to fill a prescription. Visits that are pro forma only add to the spiralling cost of care.

It's a similar calculation with sick days. Last year, over 55,000 employees went through the sick day verification process, using up doctors' time and precious hospital resources (when they should have been under the blankets sipping tea). Untold others just went to work, probably because it seemed easier, passing on their germs to their colleagues.

Abuses of the health care system, such as fraudulent prescriptions or fake sick notes, are serious concerns that need to be addressed. But when employers cannot trust their employees to take responsibility for their own actions, or trust doctors not to fake sick notes for them, the real problems are not related to the healthcare system at all. Forcing it to adapt to irresponsible employees will only make things more expensive and stressful for the rest of us.