‘Patient choice of pharmacy is important.’

pharmacist on computer

With initial plans for a rollout from mid 2020 set to be fast tracked, here’s an overview of the e-prescribing system from a Department of Health insider

Electronic prescribing is well on its way, and the rollout of a national system may come even soon than expected.

“We’ve got a fairly robust framework that’s being tested at the moment,” Rowena Sierant, Director of Electronic Medication Management at the Commonwealth Department of Health, told delegates at the recent eMedication Management Conference held in Sydney and organised by Informa Australia.

While plans for a soft rollout were initially indicated for mid 2020, the Prime Minister has said this week in a statement that the government will fast track the rollout of electronic prescribing across Australia with funding of $5 million to help in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) has been contracted by the Commonwealth to develop and manage the technical components of electronic prescribing.

Meanwhile in late 2019 the Commonwealth put in place enabling legislation that now recognises an electronic prescription as an alternative legal form by which medicines can be supplied under the PBS.

“We’ve actually just amended the regulations, we’ve added additional pieces of data to the PBS claims rules, and we have actually put in place instruments that talk about privacy and security requirements,” Ms Sierant explains.

“State and territory governments are responsible for regulating the prescribing of medicines in their own jurisdictions. Consultation with them is ongoing through the electronic prescribing working group, for the purpose of developing aligned electronic prescribing processes across Australia.”

Ms Sierant says there are some key principles the department had front of mind when they started developing the e-prescribing framework.

“Firstly, that we wouldn’t lose the capacity to have a paper prescription,” she told eMM conference delegates.

“There were a lot of people that were concerned about that. So that’s an important thing is that it’s not mandatory but it’s an option.”

However there is no option for an electronic prescription to convert into a paper prescription.

“That’s mostly because regulators are concerned about duplication of scripts and misuse, says Ms Sierant.

“The main thing is the patient will need to understand when it’s appropriate for them and when it may not be.”

When it comes to e-prescribing, “patient choice of pharmacy is important,” Ms Sierant adds.

“So what’s really important is that the system doesn’t let the GP just send the e-script to the pharmacy of their choice.

“We’ve been working quite closely with the pharmacy industry because to some extent while patients get to choose, pharmacies will need to choose to participate so when a patient comes to their pharmacy [wanting e-scripts] they’ll need to know how to do that.

“Dispensing will continue to happen largely as it does now,” she says.

“When you get script and the doctor may have not put something on there, you can put dispensing notes on an electronic script. We’ve also added date of birth on e-scripts at this stage. We’re also at a stage of introducing reason for a script. This is not mandatory but we’re looking at what it might be like to have a condition on a script that might assist with any activities after that.

“Our view is that [e-prescribing] will not in and of itself fundamentally change how prescribers do their work, but if you want to work differently it will let you do that.

“In the National Digital Health Strategy, one of the commitments through that and certainly one of the major pieces of feedback was people wanted to move to electronic scripts.

“I think it has significant benefits for consumers who use their phone as their wallet, who want to work in a way that’s more seamless and integrated into their lifestyles. Those people will actually get more benefit out of choosing to move into a more digital world.”

The Department of Health is now in the stages of implementation, she confirms, with the ADHA conducted that on its behalf.

National change and adoption activities have commenced to assist prescribers, dispensers and consumers understand how electronic prescribing will work.

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