Health & Wellbeing


Paperless prescriptions – a change for the best

The way you get your prescription filled at your pharmacy is undergoing a very significant change.

Historically you have been given a paper prescription by your doctor which you have taken to the pharmacy where the medication prescribed is dispensed. Repeats of the prescription are noted, and the paper prescription handed back to you to bring back when you need more medicine.

This is changing with the introduction of electronic prescriptions that will affect doctors and pharmacies – and above all you as a patient.

Clearly this is a welcome convenience factor for patients, which is one of the reasons pharmacists support the change to paperless prescriptions.

So how does it work?

There are two different ways an electronic prescription can be issued and accessed.

The first is the ‘token’ model which is best suited for patients suffering from an acute condition rather than a chronic illness which might involve multiple medicines.

Under this model, when your doctor writes your electronic prescription they will send you a unique QR barcode known as a ‘token’ via an app, SMS or email. This QR code is like a ‘key’ to the legal electronic document sitting in the secure Prescription Delivery Service.

You then take your phone or printed email to the pharmacist, and the QR code ‘token’ is used to access the electronic prescription information from an encrypted and secure electronic prescription delivery service.

A family member or agent can collect your medicines for you but they will have to have been sent the token with the barcode so they can give it to the pharmacy to unlock the electronic prescription.

The downside of this system is that the tokens cannot be re-sent so if you lose your phone or accidentally delete the token from your SMS, you will need to ask your doctor to cancel the electronic prescription and issue a new one.

Also it presents problems if you have multiple medications as one token is issued for each medicine – several medication means several tokens and repeat tokens to manage.

The other model is what is called the Active Script List. With this innovation, the prescriptions are held in a secure Prescription Delivery Service and instead of requiring a token(s), you access them by proving your identity at the pharmacy of your choice.

This overcomes the issue of lost tokens and assists medication management and adherence, especially for patients who are taking multiple medicines. The pharmacist is able to help you monitor your medicine use and be alert to any potential issues.

The National President of the Pharmacy Guild, George Tambassis, said electronic prescriptions are a welcome technological innovation as they give people convenient access to their medicines and improve patient safety.

“They help to reduce the risk of errors that can be associated with written prescriptions, including misinterpretation and illegible instructions,” he said.

“Another positive of electronic prescriptions is that once they are bedded-in and integrated into the pharmacy’s workflow, they cut administrative work for health professionals, freeing up time to devote to patient welfare.

“However, it is early days in the introduction of this system and it is very important that this change is orderly and carried out in a way that does not put patients at risk of missing their medicines because of confusion about the process.”

Mr Tambassis said that with such a substantial change to existing paper-based prescriptions, it was important that issues were identified and addressed as early as possible in a safe and controlled test environment prior to the commencement of any broader implementation of electronic prescriptions.

“The introduction of electronic prescriptions is a major change management undertaking for pharmacy and it is inevitable that unforeseen issues will arise. We have had some issues with doctors issuing electronic prescriptions when their local community pharmacy may not necessarily be ready. So we’re encouraging that good communication between doctor and community pharmacy, and highlighting its importance to the successful adoption of electronic prescriptions.

“At the moment there are testing hubs which will enable technical issues, patient impacts and clinical and workflow management considerations to be identified early and addressed in a safe and contained environment.

“This is a change we welcome, but it must be done with the patient’s welfare and medication adherence as a clear priority.”