Brand-conscious doctors prescribing expensive drugs

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 07 Jul 2004

PETALING JAYA: Some “brand-conscious” doctors at the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) prescribe imported expensive drugs for people seeking outpatient treatment although inexpensive versions are available at the hospital’s pharmacy. 

“For instance, there is a type of aspirin that costs less than three sen per tablet but some doctors choose to prescribe a new drug called plavix which costs RM8 per tablet,” said UMMC’s chief pharmacist Amrahi Buang. 

Doctors are given a list of drugs available at the outpatient pharmacy but some of the “brand-conscious” ones refuse to prescribe the standard drugs, he told The Star. 

The situation gets worse when the expensive drugs prescribed by these doctors are not available and patients start complaining of shortages as they are not aware of the cheaper alternatives available, Amrahi said. 

He advised doctors to prescribe the cheaper drugs instead of the expensive types to prevent misunderstandings from arising about shortages at the pharmacy. 

The UMMC, however, said a genuine shortage sometimes occurred at the pharmacy when there was a surge in demand for certain drugs. 

UMMC director Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Amir Jalaluddin said the “tremendous increase” in the number of patients of certain diseases often caused a shortage of the required medicines at the pharmacy. 

“Last year, there was an increase in the demand for calcium tablets and alendronate for osteoporosis and psychiatric drugs for atypical psychosis, like risperidone and olanzepine,” he said. 

Dr Mohd Amir said there was a constant and high demand for drugs used to treat diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and osteoporosis as well as those used in cardiology and psychology. 

He said the UMMC's internal audit department and responsibility centre held annual inventory checks to ensure the drugs were available to chronic disease patients, adding that patients could forward their complaints and suggestions by filling up forms at 66 locations in the hospital. 

Dr Mohd Amir encouraged patients to use the hospital’s Green Lane Service to collect their medication. 

“This express service enables patients to call, fax or e-mail us their name, contact numbers, hospital registration number, the name and quantity of drugs needed and the date they want to collect their medicine. 

“We will inform the patients if the drugs are available on the stated date,” he said. 

Those interested in using the Green Lane Service may call 03-7950 2377, fax 03-7950 2406 or e-mail

Patients, especially those with chronic diseases, had complained to The Star that they were sometimes forced to buy their prescribed medicines from private pharmacies because they were not available at the hospital pharmacy.  

A factory operator, who wanted to be known as only Minah, said her husband who suffered from hyperthyroidism, had to collect his prescription every three months but was sometimes told to buy the drugs outside.  

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