ABU DHABI // The capital's pharmacies are under scrutiny, with thousands of customers invited to rate the quality of the services they provide. Customers are being asked to take part in an online survey to help health officials decide if the industry needs improving.
The survey, by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD), is examining the cost and availability of medicines, as well as the quality of advice offered by pharmacists. It is also checking whether pharmacists are asking for prescriptions before dispensing antibiotics, a rule introduced in 2008. Similar surveys over the past two years were not considered as complete because they were carried out by telephone.
Dr Moutaz Zakkar, a pharmacy auditor at HAAD, said the survey was part of a broad investigation launched in 2005. "If it turns out the that the care is rated very highly, then we will check for any room for improvements and work on it. "However, if the care is rated poorly then the survey results, combined with other process improvement tools that we use, will guide our next step," he said. HAAD has invited people to respond to the survey - which can be accessed in English at www.surveymonkey.com/s/YQ7YFZ5 - and has also asked specific government bodies and other organisations, including universities, the Family Development Foundation, to take part. It expects to receive about 5,000 responses.
One of the multi-choice questions focuses on communication between patients and pharmacists. A HAAD survey last year found that pharmacists spent an average of 84 seconds verifying a patient's prescription, which a senior official said was too little time and "may lead to serious medical errors". Dr Zakkar said if the new survey showed that pharmacists were not communicating enough with customers then HAAD would use its continuing medical education programme to address the issue.
For any medical professional to renew their licence they must obtain a certain number of CME points each year by attending lectures, courses and training sessions. Hana Ibrahim, an Abu Dhabi-based pharmacist, said patients often had many serious questions about their drugs because their doctors failed to give them enough information. "People do ask a lot questions, but about everyday medicines," she said. "Just yesterday a man walked in here that had a bag of prescribed medicine he had just got from a hospital, and consulted me about the dosage and about the medication simply because the doctor had no time to explain it to him."
Another of the survey questions refers to the cost and availability of medicines. The World Health Organisation has said some prescription drugs in the Emirates are 23 times their international reference price - the average price at which their generic versions can be offered to developing countries on a not-for-profit basis. Another pharmacist, who did not want to be named, said many people were "not happy" about the need for prescriptions to obtain antibiotics.
People who did not have health insurance also often complained about the high prices, the pharmacist added. Abdulla Mostafa, 34, a resident of Abu Dhabi, complained drugs are too expensive in the capital. "They are more expensive here than many other places," said Mr Mostafa, from Jordan. "Like many people, I don't really trust the health system here. There are great facilities but the staff are not great."
He said pharmacists either did not have enough time, or adequate knowledge, to answer questions. Mr Mostafa often ended up paying for medicines despite having a "premium" health insurance package. "In my opinion there is a huge gap between the physical resources and the human resources," he said. "There are many improvements to be made." * The National, with additional reporting by Ola Salem