COVID arrangements extended


Digital image scripts have been extended one final time to the end of 2021, DOH confirms, with the Pharmacy Guild welcoming the news

There will be one final extension of the image-based prescribing arrangements until 31 December 2021, the Commonwealth Department of Health has confirmed.

The Department introduced the National Health (COVID-19 Supply of Pharmaceutical Benefits) Special Arrangement 2020, also known as ‘image-based prescribing’, in March 2020 as an interim arrangement while electronic prescribing capabilities were being developed.

“Given electronic prescribing is now widely available, the decision to extend image-based prescribing is to provide an emergency option for exceptional circumstances where electronic prescribing or other mechanisms cannot be used, particularly where communities continue to be affected by state-wide COVID-19 lockdowns,” the Department told AJP.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia National President, Trent Twomey, welcomed the extension of digital image prescriptions from end September to end December 2021.

“Digital image prescriptions have been an option providing Australians with prompt access to their PBS medicines during COVID and allowing timely claiming by pharmacies,” said Mr Twomey.

“This has been particularly valuable when people have been in lockdown, as well as part of prescriber telehealth arrangements.”

The announcement means that all Commonwealth COVID PBS arrangements will continue to the end of December 2021 – digital image prescriptions, expanded continued dispensing, prescription signature exemptions and the home delivery service, said the Guild.

The Commonwealth extension to digital image prescriptions does require enablement under state and territory laws, and Guild branches will be providing further updates to members for their respective jurisdictions.

Mr Twomey said the system of SMS costs for electronic prescriptions has also been extended until June 2022 and this too has been welcomed by the Guild.

Electronic prescribing was fast-tracked as part of the rapid development of a COVID-19 National Health Plan.

The PSA pointed out that image-based prescribing was always a temporary measure to support telehealth consultations at the onset of the pandemic until electronic prescriptions were fully functional.

“While this has been very useful, it is not without its pitfalls, especially with jurisdiction differences and confusion around sending of physical copies, especially with drugs of dependence. In many cases this has caused a considerable workload and onus on pharmacists,” PSA National President Chris Freeman told AJP.

“While electronic prescriptions have rolled-out Australia-wide, we recognise there are some prescribers who are not yet able to send electronic prescriptions, and as such recognise there is a need for a final extension of this measure.

“Moving to full implementation of e-prescribing will be beneficial for everyone – prescribers, pharmacists and patients.”

Associate Professor Freeman said a lot needs to now happen as we approach the 31 December deadline to ensure all prescribers and pharmacists are ready.

“This includes supporting software providers of medical prescribing software to allow full electronic prescription capacity for every prescriber. Full adoption of electronic prescribing must be a priority particularly as we roll through waves of lockdown and potential exposure sites,” he said.

Updated factsheets on the supply of prescriptions via telehealth for prescribers and dispensers are in the process of being published on the Department of Health’s website to reflect these changes, said the Department.

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