A circular from the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention calls for all handwritten prescriptions to be banned. Medical professionals have six months to transition to a completely electronic system for prescriptions or face being reported.
Why is the UAE Banning Handwritten Prescriptions?
The ban, announced by H.E. Dr. Amin Hussein Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary for the Ministry’s Public Health Policy and Licensing, is intended to make medicines safer. Citing a 2012 American Health & Drugs Benefits study, the Ministry links the illegibility of handwritten prescriptions to the many annual deaths which result from medication errors. While the reality is that few patients die as a result of handwritten prescriptions, there are wider reasons to move towards an electronic system of prescribing medicines.
Benefits of the Ban
Since 2014 with the introduction of mandatory medical insurance and the essential benefits plan, Dubai has gradually sought to modernise it’s health industry. The UAE’s decision to ban handwritten prescriptions should be seen in the wider context of modernising its health services. Being able to keep a permanent electronic record of what has been prescribed, and to whom, enables government to analyse how medicines are being used and make recommendations. For example, if one area sees a reduction in an illness because it uses a particular medicine, the new electronic system will allow that data to be used to advise other areas to prescribe the more effective drug. Furthermore, the electronic prescription means all important information is recorded, from the dosage, pack size, brand, batch number and expiry date, to who administered it, the physician’s signature, the date it was prescribed and the name of the patient. None of this would be possible using outdated handwritten prescriptions.
Another factor is the global increase of drug related problems arising from controlled and partially controlled drugs. Painkillers, relaxants and other legal drugs can become addictive and lead to life changing effects for the patient. The new electronic system will ensure the amount of any drug being prescribed is recorded, enabling proper monitoring of the health system.
While some physicians and their patients may struggle with the new system at first, eventually this will ensure that the UAE’s health system is as modern as any in the world today. This can only mean a safer system for patients in the UAE and greater accountability for the health services there.