21 July 2021

E-scripts hit the big time

PBS Technology

Australia’s digital health sector all too often fails to deliver on the hype, but electronic prescribing capabilities appear to be the exception.

Introduced in May last year as a pandemic safety measure, more than 12 million e-scripts have now been issued, according to Australian Digital Health Agency figures.

E-scripts act as replacements for a paper script by sending a unique digital token directly to patients via text or email, and can also be uploaded to Active Script List.

The interoperability with Active Script List allows patients, GPs and pharmacists to share access to a consolidated digital wallet containing all active prescriptions for the patient.

According to Paul Naismith, CEO of pharmacy sector tech vendor Fred IT, although e-scripts were implemented only last year, the concept has been in the works for almost a decade.

“The basic building blocks of e-scripts have been around for the past 10 years – there’s a version called electronic transfer of scripts that’s been built out over a number of years, but the pandemic has pushed it the last few steps across the line,” Mr Naismith told The Medical Republic.

“The technologies involved may be challenging, but it’s usually the legal and the governmental approvals that took all the time.”

Take-up has been promising, with ADHA data indicating that about 22,000 prescribers and at least 98% of community pharmacies have embraced the technology.

“We are doing about 500,000 e-scripts a week now – it’s really growing every day,” Mr Naismith said.

“There is always extra uptake when areas go into lockdown and we’ve been able to follow the statistics across the country as various lockdowns have occurred.

“In New South Wales, we’re seeing steep uptake as GPs start to do more telehealth, close their practices and change the way they work.”

So many e-scripts were issued, Mr Naismith said, that Fred IT was soon receiving feedback that patients were often having difficulty trying to locate the correct script in their phone while at the pharmacy.

In response, an Active Script List integration was added.

“This allows every prescription written electronically to get stored in the cloud,” Mr Naismith said.

“The patient can then give permission to particular GPs and pharmacies to get access to that list.

“From the patient’s point of view, they can never lose their prescription again, which is amazing.”

A further integration has also allowed patients to manage their prescriptions using a WhatsApp chatbot.

Essentially, WhatsApp is able to communicate with Active Script List to display the patient’s prescription list as a WhatsApp message.

Patients can communicate with the chatbot to select which medications they need to order from their list of active scripts, which pharmacy they wish to get it from, whether they would like to pick it up or have it delivered, and whether generic substitutes are acceptable.

“This is something we’ve worked on to demonstrate the technology people can build on top of the Active Script List approach, but it’s open to anybody within the performance rules set by ADHA,” Mr Naismith told TMR.

“Within those set rules, anyone can innovate and find new and improved ways for patients to get their medication.”

ADHA’s information on e-prescribing for developers can be found here.

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