eScripts on the fast track
Pulse+IT had a bit of a dig at the announcement a month or so ago by Australia's Department of Health that it would pull off a ”development sprint” over eight weeks to get electronic prescriptions happening in the face of the pandemic.
We were highly cynical that it could be achieved in such a timeframe (and for just $5 million), but we might be laughing on the other side of our smug face soon enough as the GP software vendors seem to have pulled off the miraculous and are now on track to make the capability available next month at the earliest.
We did a round-up of the main vendors this week and found that Best Practice and Zedmed were looking the most likely to stand something up by mid-May, with MediRecords and Medtech looking at June and Genie a bit further down the track. MedicalDirector says it is well on its way but apart from saying it would abide by the Australian Digital Health Agency's timeline, it could give us no firm estimate of when its capability will be ready.
The pharmacy dispense vendors, prescription exchange services and consumer app developers are ready to go, so well done to all in the medical software development community and indeed to ADHA and DoH for getting it done. In the meantime, we hear there has been a big uptake of digital scripts, the rules around which the department has relaxed, allowing GPs to fax a copy or email an image of the script to the patient's pharmacy. So far, NSW, the ACT, Victoria and Western Australia have made the necessary changes to state regulations, with the others working on it.
Such has been the popularity of digital scripts, Pharmacy Daily reported today, that pharmacies are being urged to assign a staff member to man the fax machine. Pharmacists are also asking GPs to ensure the patient's contact details are on the fax as shortages of certain medications are still being experienced and the pharmacy often needs to ring the patient.
Across the pond, New Zealand has also moved fast, with pharmacy platform RxOne, GP practice management software vendors Indici and My Practice and secure messaging service Clanwilliam Health, better known as HealthLink, developing a new electronic prescription messaging service called Secure Script. The largest pharmacy dispense vendor, Toniq, and the largest PMS vendor, Medtech, are also on board, and Health Informatics New Zealand is reporting that the pandemic has seen a jump in the number of general practices using the New Zealand ePrescribing Service (NZePS), which is New Zealand's prescription exchange service. It has been significantly underused in the past, mainly because GPs were expected to pay for it.
The other big area of quick growth has of course been telehealth, with the Australian government this week announcing that over three million episodes of telehealth care have been provided to 2.5 million patients since the new Medicare items were introduced. It seems that every health IT company on the planet is now rolling out telehealth solutions – our COVID-19 technology resources page has been swamped by new entries – and more are to come over the next few weeks. However, we are hearing that most telehealth consults are being done by phone rather than video, with upwards of 65 per cent audio only.
We'll see what happens in the wash up come September 30 when the MBS items are due to expire, but most experts we are talking to seem to believe that at least some of them will be retained in the future. For GPs however, the decision on whether to continue with telehealth services will come down to revenue. Medical practices around the world are being hard hit by the drop in income with face-to-face appointments cratering, and the revenue from telehealth is not filling the gap.
So while electronic scripts and telehealth have been given a kickstart by the pandemic, we'll see what happens when the virus is under control. It's a question we asked in our last poll, predominantly in relation to virtual care, and most thought things would never be the same ever again. We asked: Do you think healthcare will revert to pre-pandemic workflows when it is all over? The majority think not: 83 per cent voted no, while 17 per cent said yes.
This week we ask: will you use electronic scripts over paper scripts when they become available?
BTW, we are planning a bit of a clean-up of our COVID-19 technology resources page, which has proved hugely popular but has grown very, very large. We'll keep adding new technologies to the site on our home page, but we plan to introduce an index for each category to make it more manageable.
We also encourage you to take a look at our most popular story for the week, on the quick roll-out of remote monitoring for patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who are at low or moderate risk of developing serious symptoms. Primary and acute care providers in Western Sydney have implemented a pretty nifty system involving GP and community health teams providing care for those patients in their own homes, with the ability to escalate to hospital quickly if needed. It's amazing what a global pandemic, communities in lockdown and economic chaos can do in hurry.