Hospitals in Abu Dhabi will be required to give patients a full breakdown of their medical bills to improve transparency and ensure residents know their rights.
The emirate's department of health issued the ruling on Tuesday and said it would take effect from May 1.
Mohammed Al Hajj, acting director of the department's financing division, said bills must detail the treatment provided and healthcare services received, including any patient cost-sharing obligations, such as copay.
The move is intended to "empower patients and ensure they understand their rights and obligations, and increase the community’s awareness about the cost of healthcare services" and reduce "unnecessary healthcare services, and promote the principle of value for money," state news agency Wam reported.
The department of health said it wanted patients to better understand the insurance rights afforded to them and their insurance companies so they can question any costs.
Insurers have previously accused the private medical industry of carrying out unnecessary treatments on patients, usually in the form of extra scans and lengthy lists of prescription medication. Last year, a Swiss software company using artificial intelligence to analyse treatments in the UAE found nearly 37,000 suspicious claims made by 4,000 doctors in 2016-17.However, hospitals said insurers are too reluctant to fund expensive but necessary treatments.
"The DoH is urging all healthcare providers and professionals to ensure they provide patients or their attendants with a detailed electronic statement by text messages or via email that outline all charges incurred," Mr Al Hajj said. "Furthermore, healthcare facilities must keep copies of the issued bills for when an audit by the DoH is due."
Last year, healthcare facilities in Abu Dhabi began dispensing "generic" medicines rather than brand-name drugs, in an effort to provide better value for money for the healthcare system. Common brands such as Nurofen and Claritin often cost more than non-brand alternatives.
Insurance firms welcome the steps towards greater transparency, if only to make patients more aware of the true cost of healthcare.
“Making the costs of scans, tests and medication more transparent will enable patients to push back if they think they are being offered unnecessary medication that will ultimately have a cost on their employer,” said Stephen Maclaren, a health insurance broker and director at AES International.
“Medical inflation is a big problem in the UAE. This measure can only help to reduce that in the long term by revealing to many people the true cost of healthcare.
“Ultimately, greater transparency in the industry will allow patients to take control back for the healthcare they are given.
“If employers pay less money for health insurance, they will have more money to spend on pay rises and other employee benefits.”
Patient access to their medical bills is the latest measure to clean-up the health industry in the UAE.
Hospital and clinics have been accused of generating huge levels of waste through unnecessary prescriptions and diagnosis tests, with some doctors offered financial incentives to bump-up treatments.
Doctors caught out regularly overprescribing medicines risk being blacklisted by insurance companies.
Under the new protocols, patients will be better placed to choose the most efficient medical services on offer.
Dr Arun Menon, who heads VPS Healthcare’s Burjeel Royal Hospital and Medeor International Hospital in Al Ain, said a better understanding of costs would help patients rate the quality of services they receive.
“Without transparency, patients don’t have any realistic way to gauge the quality of the care or coverage they receive relative to the price they are paying,” he said.
“This is also important as benefits available to patients and co-pays for many insurance plans can change annually, or when a patient changes jobs.
“We have seen some consumers only care about their out-of-pocket costs, not the whole pricing system.
“But we believe transparent pricing information will help empower patients to make better health care decisions.”
Other doctors said patient confidence was vital to sustain a vibrant, effective health service.
“We want to help build confidence in our patients, not only as it relates to the care they receive, but also when it comes to monitoring costs of that care,” said Dr Fadi Baladi, a medical director at a Reem Island day surgery.
“Without accurate information on health care costs, patients do not have the tools needed to determine the value they receive in their health care.”
Medical directors at NMC Hospitals, one of the largest healthcare providers in the region, also welcomed improved accountability in healthcare costs.
“Transparency empowers the patients and promotes an understanding of their rights and duties while increasing their orientation towards the rising costs of healthcare,” said Prasanth Manghat, CEO and executive director of NMC Health Plc.