Digital image-based scripts for SA

South Australia is the latest jurisdiction to allow pharmacists to dispense medicines without a hard copy paper script

Pharmacists in South Australia have been given the go-ahead to supply prescription medicine without a hard copy paper prescription during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state joins NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria in making the change.

Legality to supply medicines with a digital image is ongoing under existing ACT and Northern Territory legislation, with rules for supply under the PBS provided through Commonwealth legislation.

Therefore Queensland is the only jurisdiction still working to make regulatory changes to support the PBS Special Arrangement for digital image prescriptions. Currently, a digital image of a prescription is not a valid prescription in Queensland.

South Australian State Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said the temporary change to medicines regulation allows for the use of digital image-based prescriptions and thus supports safe and convenient healthcare for vulnerable patients.

“Many patients who would usually see their doctor in person to collect a paper-based prescription are now making use of telehealth appointments to receive medical care in the safety of their own home,” Minister Wade said.

“Now South Australia has approved a temporary exemption to the Controlled Substances Regulations that will also enable patients to have their prescriptions filled without leaving home.

“This special arrangement means prescribers can send the patient’s pharmacist a digital image of the prescription – for example, by emailing a scanned copy – with no need to provide the original paper prescription at all.

“The pharmacist can then fill the script and deliver the medicine to the patient at home.

“National changes enacted by the Commonwealth ensure that prescriptions filled this way remain eligible for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

“Those in our community who are most at risk from exposure to coronavirus, such as older persons and people living with chronic medical conditions, are best protected by staying at home and not mixing with others in a doctor’s waiting room or pharmacy.”

SA Health Interim Chief Pharmacist Naomi Burgess said the special arrangement is in place until 30 September 2020 to support the increased use of telehealth due to COVID-19.

“This new method of prescribing is not mandatory but will be a useful tool for the many healthcare professionals who are now offering their patients Medicare telehealth services,” Ms Burgess said.

“It also supports pharmacists and consumers to observe safe practices by allowing a pharmacist to supply medicines without acknowledgment of the patient where it is impractical for them to sign the prescription, for example due to infection control.

“Prescribers should check with the patient’s pharmacy about how they would like to receive a digital image, noting that email, fax and text messages are all acceptable options.

“Pharmacists are obliged to confirm the bona fides of the prescription, including that it has been written and sent by an authorised prescriber.”

After NSW and WA joined Victoria in making similar changes, PSA national president Dr Chris Freeman called for all jurisdictions to do the same and said that pharmacists were confused and frustrated over the matter.

“I am getting an enormous amount of feedback, concern and frustration from you all on the issue of digital image prescriptions and the increasing confusion, workload and stress that this measure is causing,” he said in mid-April in a message to members.

“There is particular confusion given the Australian Government factsheets did not effectively communicate that state and territory regulatory changes were required prior to supplying of medicines under this arrangement become lawful,” said A/Prof Freeman.

“Many of you from all around Australia are being left in a quandary and are stuck in the middle between the federal legislative instrument and the state and territory regulations.

“This is causing profession-wide confusion, greater workload and more administration at an already frantically busy time.”

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