Electronic prescribing: supporting Australians in managing their health and wellbeing

  • Man using phone and ipad
    [Image: Australian Digital Health Agency]

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Floods, bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these have accelerated innovation and amplified demand for digital healthcare solutions over the past two years. One example is electronic prescriptions. Originally scheduled for launch in 2021, the initiative was brought forward as part of Australia’s COVID-19 National Health Plan response. The objective was safer, faster, more secure and more efficient delivery of prescriptions to consumers.

Beyond the obvious advantages in a COVID-19 climate, electronic prescribing continues to have ongoing benefits, including enhanced options for telehealth, increased consumer choice and greater accessibility to medicines, time savings and increased medicines safety.

Since the first electronic prescription was transmitted in primary care, on 6 May 2020, more than 77 million electronic prescriptions have been issued to Australians. Over 47,000 prescribers have generated an electronic prescription and more than 98 per cent of community pharmacies are dispensing them.

Electronic prescriptions are legally recognised electronic documents that are transmitted from the prescriber to a Prescription Delivery Service (PDS), where they remain until they are dispensed or expire. At the time that the prescription is transmitted to the PDS, the consumer receives a QR code via SMS or email (or mobile app, if they have one) known as a ‘token’ that can be presented at any pharmacy. Scanning this token allows the pharmacist to download the electronic prescription for dispensing. Consumers who do not have access to a mobile phone or email address can still receive a token printed out on paper from their prescriber.

Once the medicine has been dispensed, the token cannot be re-used for additional medicine supply. A new token is issued by the pharmacy for any repeats remaining on the prescription. This process continues for each repeat that is available to the patient under the original prescription.

For many people, receiving a token that they can present at any pharmacy when they need a prescription is a simple process; the SMS containing the token may sit in their phone for days or weeks until the medicine is needed, at which point it can be scanned at the pharmacy. While this is a fairly simple process for consumers requiring a couple of medications, it becomes more complex when a person requires multiple medicines to manage chronic health conditions or if one person is looking after the prescriptions of multiple people. To assist with managing this complexity, patients have the option of utilising an Active Script List (ASL).

The ASL, an online token management solution, is a consolidated list of a person’s active prescriptions that provides an alternative way for consumers to securely store tokens for their electronic prescriptions. After a person has registered for an ASL at their local pharmacy, they will be able to provide consent to share the list of their active prescriptions with nominated healthcare providers to view and/or supply medicines, removing the need for a token.  

ASL has been designed to provide a more efficient method for prescribers, dispensers and consumers to manage electronic prescriptions. For example, when the doctor generates an electronic prescription for a consumer with an ASL, the prescription is uploaded to the ASL in real-time, removing need for a token to be sent to the consumer directly. When a consumer presents at a pharmacy, the dispenser can view and dispense medicines directly from a patient’s ASL without scanning the token.

Unlike paper prescriptions, with an ASL a consumer is unable to misplace their prescription. As a result, the time taken to re-issue prescriptions by doctors will be reduced by the adoption of ASL.

Electronic prescribing and the associated ASL provide convenience and choice to consumers through the use of a secure, sophisticated digital solution; while also improving efficiency, compliance and medicines safety.

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