Legislation for e-scripts passed

pharmacist on computer

Get ready to ditch the paper: New legislation provides framework for electronic prescriptions

Legislative changes passed late last month are paving the way for the use of electronic prescriptions across the country.

The amendment to the rules for PBS/RPBS claims provides the legislative framework for prescribers and their patients to have the option to use an electronic prescription as an alternative to a paper-based prescription.

It also sets the rules for how electronic prescription should be differentiated from paper ones, including additional information that would be required from approved suppliers in relation to the supply of pharmaceutical benefits upon electronic prescription.

According to the legislation, the decision for either a paper or electronic prescription will be made at the point of prescribing.

However in order to avoid duplication, any subsequent change to a different format (from paper to electronic or vice versa) would require cancellation of the existing prescription and preparation of a new script.

These changes follow the Federal Government’s commitment in the 2017-18 Budget of $28.2 million over five years to implement the national electronic prescribing system.

While the amendment has been enacted, there is still further work required before the system is fully up and running.

The Department of Health has partnered with the Australian Digital Health Agency to deliver the technical framework, planned for delivery by the end of 2019, a spokesperson for the Department of Health told the AJP.

“The Department is leading work to enable the prescribing, dispensing and claiming of PBS and RPBS medicines in a seamless electronic manner,” they said.

“It will provide an option for prescribers and their patients to have a fully electronic PBS prescription as an alternative to a paper PBS prescription.

“Electronic prescribing will not fundamentally change how existing prescribing and dispensing processes operate, with patient choice of pharmacy remaining central,” added the department spokesperson.

“The development of the required legislative and technical frameworks is well underway, which will enable modifications to existing systems and software to allow the safe and secure use of an electronic prescription as a legal alternative to a paper prescription.”

While the e-prescription network has already existed for 10 years, the legislation means paper scripts are no longer legally required, explained Paul Naismith, CEO of Fred IT Group which runs the eRx Script Exchange.

“The prescription network is there, eRx is the one that we have and the other one is called MediSecure, those exchanges are there – but the legal document is still the paper,” he told AJP.

“They’re national systems and the two different systems are interconnected, so you can go to any pharmacy today and they have that available.

“The main difference [following the legislation] is that you can choose to get your script in paper or if you want you can go totally digital, you don’t need any paper in the process.”

According to the timeline, some small-scale deployments should occur early next year with further roll-outs after that, he said.

The system offers several significant benefits for patients and healthcare practitioners.

Doctors will no longer need to print and sign scripts if the patient chooses to get it electronically, Mr Naismith said.

“For pharmacists, a lot of the benefits they get will be around reduced transcription and retyping. It also makes it safer because there’s less errors,” he said.

“It’s more efficient, obviously the pharmacists no longer have to stick claims stickers on paper and store and file – that all goes away.

“That gives them more time for patients, so spending less administrative time and more time providing professional services and advice.”

Regarding privacy and security risks, Mr Naismith said there will need to be appropriate protections in place to ensure cyber security.

“There’s a requirement that we continue to get better at that,” he said.

However he emphasised that patients will be able to choose between paper and electronic prescriptions.

“If they’re not comfortable with their information being used this way, they can choose to keep going with paper,” said Mr Naismith.

Pharmacist proprietor Nick Logan, from Sydney, is looking forward to the changes.

“I can assure you that all pharmacists are sick of the amount of paper that we generate,” he said.

“I’m standing here in my dispensary now looking at the piles of paper and thinking, ‘Boy, imagine if you didn’t have to print paper repeats’.

“It will make things more efficient … it can only be a leap forward.”

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