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Electronic prescriptions mandatory from January

A thing of the past © Anthony Dehez/Belga

Doctors and other specialists will be obliged to use electronic prescriptions from next year, the government agency for health insurance (Inami/Riziv) has announced. From 2020, the agency will no longer routinely issue physicians with official prescription booklets.

According to the Belgian association of physicians’ unions (BVAS/Absym), the measure will apply for GPs as well as specialists, dentists and midwives. Paper prescriptions will only be permitted in cases where there is no electronic option, most commonly on house calls.

Between now and next year, doctors can order a stock of prescription booklets, up to a maximum of 25 (15 for dentists and 10 for midwives). After January, no more booklets can be ordered.

For patients, there is little change. They will still receive a paper document from the doctor, printed rather than hand-written, and containing a barcode. The code is then scanned by the pharmacist and the prescription archived. Some doctors already use an electronic prescription of this sort.

For the Inami, the electronic prescription has a number of advantages: legibility and a reduced chance of mistakes; a complete and clear prescription; a database of medications available to the doctor and a unique single-use barcode which prevents copies being made of the prescription for fraudulent use.

The change was originally intended to take place on 1 January 2018, before a number of complications were pointed out. For example, physicians who are no longer active, such as teachers, court experts and others, would no longer be able to issue prescriptions occasionally as they can now, without taking on the burden of the equipment needed for the electronic document. For some older doctors, in addition, the rapidity of the change presented them with a challenge of getting to know the new system.

At the last minute, in December 2017, the change was postponed until June 2018. At the time, federal health minister Maggie De Block defended the system on the RTBF:
“The electronic prescription is a crucial tool for the close medical accompaniment of patients. The aim is not to computerise for the sake of it. Transition measures will give doctors the time to adapt, but one thing should be clear: I will not delay the general introduction of the system any longer.” In the event, however, that is just what did happen.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times