Healthcare facilities in Abu Dhabi will this weekend begin dispensing "generic" medicines rather than brand-name drugs in a push to provide better value for money in the healthcare system.
The Department of Health (DoH) said patients will have the option to use their prescription to collect generic drugs or pay the difference in price for well-known brands.
Non-brand medicines are just as effective but cost as little as a fifth of the price, according to research by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Among the best examples are anti-inflammatory drugs such as generic ibuprofen that have the same effect as premium brands such as Nurofen, which often retail for several times the price.
Antihistamines such as Claritin, used to treat dust and pet allergies, are also much more expensive than drug companies' generic versions.
“DoH encourages healthcare facilities to start offering more generic medicine options to provide patients with better value for money," a department of health circular read.
"Under the new mechanism, DoH has set a reference price for drug categories with equivalent generic substitute, whereas reference prices have not been listed for drugs with no generic substitute. Patients who wish to claim medications with higher value than those listed on the reference price list will be required to pay the difference in price.”
Mohammed Al Hajj, director of Health System Financing Division, said on Thursday: “We have looked at the successful application of similar generic medicine policies in other countries worldwide. We worked alongside our strategic partners in both the public and private healthcare sector in Abu Dhabi to involve them in the development process and gradual application of the mechanism to ensure the healthcare system is well aligned to further deliver exceptional care services in Abu Dhabi.”
Health insurance professionals in the UAE have previously called on regulators to encourage doctors to prescribe more generic drugs.
They say healthcare providers could save Dh2.3 billion by prescribing drugs that are just as effective as branded pharmaceuticals.
Many countries worldwide have successfully encouraged the use of generic medicine over brand-medicine.
In Germany 80 per cent of prescribed drugs are generic, whereas in the UK 78 per cent of prescribed drugs are generic.
Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman of VPS Healthcare, which operates 20 hospitals in the Gulf and India, said patients should have confidence that generic drugs are as effective as brand versions.
"The principle of prescribing generically to be introduced by the DoH, brings Abu Dhabi into line with that which is becoming more common across the world," he said.