Why paper prescriptions no longer fit our digital health reality

Medications, along with hospital costs, constitute one of the major health spending categories in Canada, with at least 1 in 10 Canadian adults regularly taking prescriptions to treat high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or mood disorders.

For years, when patients needed a new prescription or a refill on existing medication, they were required to make an appointment to see their doctor in person. However, when COVID-19 hit in 2020, lockdowns and closures forced a rapid shift to digital healthcare, with many in-person doctor appointments replaced by telemedicine or virtual visits — yet through it all, the need for prescription medications did not disappear.

With the shift to digital health here to stay — a recent report found that almost half of Canadians have now accessed a physician using virtual care, and 91 percent are satisfied with the service they received — the healthcare industry faces some important questions.

How can patients receive medication without picking up a prescription from their doctor?

How can pharmacists verify the authenticity of a prescription and dispense with confidence?

How can physicians know that the medication has been picked up, and no follow-up call with a patient is required?

e-Prescribing: The Future of Prescriptions

Canadian Digital Health Survey found that 80 percent of Canadians are interested in having their prescription sent directly to a pharmacy from their doctor’s office. Currently, there are two ways this can be done: via fax or via electronic prescribing (e-prescribing).

Fax machines are archaic, unreliable, error-prone, and often cause unnecessary delays in patient care due to malfunctions, illegible handwriting, or pharmacists requiring clarification on prescriptions.

Alternatively, an e-prescribing solution integrates into the pharmacy management system (PMS) of a pharmacy and electronic medical record (EMR) of a doctor to digitally transmit a prescription from a prescriber to a patient’s pharmacy of choice.

Once a prescription has been transmitted, it populates fields in the pharmacy management system, ensuring the name of the drug and dosage are clear. Pharmacy professionals do not have to manually input the information and worry about deciphering illegible handwriting — they can be certain that the prescription is authentic and came straight from a physician’s office. If there are any questions or clarifications required, pharmacists can use a clinical communications tool in the platform to message a physician. No more phone tag or unnecessary delays.

E-prescribing also helps physicians see whether or not the prescription has been picked up, providing important insight into their patient’s medication adherence. Physicians can also approve a prescription renewal request straight from their EMR. With 86 percent of physicians in Canada already using EMR systems, integrating e-prescribing solutions would be fairly simple and have a profound impact on healthcare delivery.

The service is also incredibly convenient for patients: for 1 in 3 Canadians, a virtual visit ends in a prescription renewal. With e-prescribing, patients no longer have to worry about lost prescriptions or taking time off to see their doctor for renewals. All they have to do is head to their pharmacy of choice and ask for their prescription.

The process is seamless, convenient, and safe. E-prescribing is emerging as a prevalent way to receive, create, or dispense prescriptions, steadily replacing other forms of provider-to-provider communication.

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Article originally posted on Think Research.