March saw pre-Christmas script volume ‘three times over’

The COVID-19 crisis has sped up the e-scripts revolution in Australia and while pharmacists should be ready for the impending changes, “there’s no need to panic,” says expert

E-prescriptions are coming, but while pharmacists should prepare there is no need to be alarmed, reassures Paul Naismith, founder and CEO of Fred IT Group which owns eRx Script Exchange.

Nearly 3000 people tuned into a webinar run by Fred IT Group on Wednesday night, where Mr Naismith and colleagues shared their highlights and learnings about the incoming system so far, including how quickly changes have happened over the past few months.

“The workload we’ve all been under as pharmacists has been incredible,” he said.

“Normally with eRx Script Exchange, we always see the busiest dispensing week is one week before Christmas – about seven million scripts are dispensed through eRx on that week.

“In March, we saw three weeks with seven million scripts dispensed. So it was the Christmas volume three times over.”

Mr Naismith said this rose to over eight million scripts being dispensed, and added that during the volume increase, pharmacists were simultaneously dealing with digital images and stock issues, among other challenges.

“The ability to service our customers, our patients in the COVID crisis has been really tested, not only dealing with remote patients but remote doctors. It really clearly showed what we knew coming down the track, but was really required, and that was digital enablement in the way we look after our customers,” he said.

“In three months we saw more digital enablement than I’ve seen in the past five years. So if we were ever to see a good thing come out of COVID, the enablement for us to look after our customers digitally has been brought to the fore.”

In November last year, Federal legislative changes were made which paved the way for the use of electronic prescriptions across the country.

This March, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the Federal Government committed an additional $5 million of funding to fast track software capability for e-prescriptions.

States are now finalising their new e-script laws, confirmed Mr Naismith.

On 7 May, Australia’s first paperless electronic prescription in primary care was successfully prescribed and dispensed in Victoria.

“It’s been a long time coming, with a lot of effort from a lot of stakeholders,” said Mr Naismith.

Due to the legislative changes, the piece of paper synonymous with scripts is no longer the legal document for a prescription, but is now only a representation of a request.

“The paperless prescription is now the legal document. The request can only come from the legal document being downloaded from an authorised pharmacy from either of two exchanges – eRx or MediSecure,” he explained.

Key points to prepare for e-prescriptions

Contrary to some people’s belief that there was going to be an “avalanche” of e-scripts on the 1 June, it was always the plan to trial the introduction to electronic scripts in a limited way first, Mr Naismith said in the webinar.

So far e-scripts are only rolling out in specific areas, and unless a pharmacist is in one of these ‘community of interest’ areas, they shouldn’t see an electronic prescription.

“It’s a huge change, we’re teaching 25 million people to change the way they get their prescriptions,” he said.

“It is nerve wracking to deal with such a big change but seeing how you’ve all dealt with the COVID period, it’s not impossible.

“But patients being patients may turn up to your pharmacy with an e-script, so we do encourage you to speak to our teams and get ready for that day when that does happen.”

Mr Naismith highlighted that the token model is set to roll out from 1 July, and the Active Script Lists model will follow afterwards.

“There’s no need to panic. Be ready but don’t be alarmed, it is happening but it’s not happening to you tomorrow.”

AJP will further cover the Fred IT Group webinar, including a Q&A on e-prescribing, in a second article tomorrow.

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