According to the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) survey, the average GP consultation lasted just eight minutes - barely half the 15 minutes recommended by international guidelines. "Consultation time is not deemed sufficient to ensure adequate patient counselling and care," the report stated. For new patients, consultation time should be as much as 45 minutes, said Dr Mohammed Abuelkhair, the head of HAAD's medicines regulation unit.
"For every patient [the doctor] should be taking weight, height and blood pressure," he said. "Typically, the least amount of time [needed] is 15 minutes. It takes time to get a correct diagnosis and idea of treatment." The survey also found that pharmacists spent an average of one minute and 24 seconds checking a patient's prescription, "which should warrant serious attention", said Dr Abuelkhair, warning that such a brief examination "may lead to serious medical errors".
Doctors are legally required to include certain information on every prescription. But the survey, which looked at 208 prescriptions, found vital details were often missing. Thirty per cent did not include any information on the strength of the drug prescribed, 22 per cent did not state frequency of use and 34 per cent did not say over what period the drug should be taken. The doctor's contact information was missing in seven per cent of cases. In addition, just 8.5 per cent of prescriptions carried the patient's contact information, 51 per cent indicated the patient's weight and 34 per cent stated the patient's sex.
According to Dr Abuelkhair, good practice required all such details be present on every prescription. Failure to include them was not only illegal, he said, but also potentially risky to patients' health. "If [physicians] don't do this there is a big room for error and this could be dangerous to a patient's life." If a pharmacist was not clear on how strong a medicine should be and a patient was unclear on how long a course of drugs was supposed to be, it could also compromise the treatment's effectiveness.
"We want physicians to treat prescriptions as they would their bank chequebook," added Dr Abuelkhair. "All the information should be included and written legibly. They should take time to fill it all in and sign it. There should be no room for error." Dr Lamya el Barasi, the director of pharmacy at a private hospital in Abu Dhabi, said that because most of the population had medical insurance, many consultations were for minor ailments.
That meant doctors often did not have enough time to spend with each patient: "A doctor who used to see around 25 or 30 patients a day, can now see 60 patients a day. "If that's the case, then of course doctors are barely going to give patients enough time, and [may] spend less time with them than they should." email@example.com