Send a script by phone to the pharmacy

A NSW pharmacist has developed an iPhone app that allows consumers to take a photo of their prescription and SMS it to their pharmacist, where it can be dispensed at a convenient time to both.

Part of a broader range of smartphone and web-based apps that Wollongong pharmacist Fabian McCann hopes to integrate within pharmacy, GP and nursing home software, the sek app is the first product to be released by his company, sekSystems.

In addition to the Send a Script consumer app, Mr McCann and his team have developed a web-based dashboard app for participating pharmacists that receives the consumer's SMS and manages the dispensing process. When the medication is ready to be collected, it sends a notification back to the consumer.

The consumer app also contains an interactive allChemist database to help them locate a participating pharmacy.

sekSystems is currently running a 30-day free trial for pharmacists, due to finish at the end of July. After that, a monthly fee will be charged to use the system, although the app will be free to consumers. sekSystems has developed a range of marketing materials such as window displays that it will provide to pharmacies to help promote the app to their customers.

Mr McCann, who has owned a number of pharmacies in his career and now runs a pharmacy in the Wollongong suburb of Kanahooka, said the development of the app was driven by the parlous state of the community pharmacy sector. He is using his pharmacy as a showcase for both the new app and other IT solutions he hopes to develop.

“About three years ago I went to a conference about IT and social media and heard a guy from Deloitte talking about the future,” Mr McCann said. “I thought I could keep doing what I was doing and have a slow death, or I could do something else.”

Mr McCann said he discussed the development of an app with the vendors of his dispensary software, but no one was doing what he wanted to do, so he had a crack at it himself.

“I changed my brand to SocialChemist, which is the social media arm of it, and which will function as the portal,” he said. “That is a web application that will complement the app down the track.

“I was doing it for myself but then I got the idea that everyone else might want to have it. It has turned from an idea within my own business to hopefully something that is going to be popular.”

The consumer app is deliberately simple to use and involves a process of "tap, snap, select and send". Consumers tap the app to open it, take a snap of the script, select their local pharmacy, and then send the message.

The simplicity of the app and its design, including bright colours and large buttons, is intended to encourage older people to use the system, Mr McCann said.

“I know the younger generation is into it but we are trying to get an older demographic,” he said. “Taking a pic is simpler than doing a scan or a QR code, so the simplest thing is to use an anti-shake camera phone where they can take an image, send it to the pharmacy, collect their medications, and build up some confidence in technology.”

The first iteration of the app is very simple, but Mr McCann plans to add a large range of new functions while still retaining the four basic steps for non-tech-savvy users.

“Each time we do an update we'll add a few more features and build up some confidence in it,” he said. “The next thing we are going to do is a script reminder and a medication management system, so it's sort of like having your own Webster-pak with alarms and things inside the phone.

“The [alternatives] on the market that we have found, you need to be into mobile phones to understand them. They have six or eight taps. The one that we are bringing out is going to be really simple and basic, just set a reminder for a tablet, and then as time goes on we'll up the ante but only if takes the customer base with us.”

For pharmacists, the allChemist web app only requires them to have an internet connection. The allChemist dashboard contains a number of screens through which the script is processed, including receipt of the new script, dispensing in progress, a 'not dispensed' screen and a dispensed screen.

If a particular medication is out of stock, for example, the pharmacist simply presses a 'not dispensed' button and is able to message the customer to tell them to phone.

The release of the app is only the first step in Mr McCann's broader plans, which are to integrate it into pharmacy, general practice and nursing home systems. He has applied for a NASH PKI certificate from Medicare and has developed an API to allow the system to work within other software systems.

The next version of the app will allow a GP to send a script to an inbox in the patient's phone, but Mr McCann says that will be a longer-term exercise as GP software vendors wait for the allChemist system to achieve good market penetration.

An easier way for nursing homes to send orders is also on the cards, he said. As any community pharmacist knows, the amount of time that nurses spend on the phone chasing up or checking medications orders is extraordinary, and is time that could be much more effectively spent caring for residents.

Mr McCann is also finding new applications for the app. The system allows nursing homes to take photos of residents and message them to his pharmacy, where he can then upload them into his system and print them onto Webster-paks.

A great fan of the Webstercare medications management system, Mr McCann's pharmacy uses its virtual pill counter in his store, but finds that many nursing homes still use fax machines.

“With the app, they can take a photo of the orders or the doctor's scripts instead of sending faxes through to us,” he said. “We are holding the hands of our own individual nursing homes and adapting it.”

As to regular customers, Mr McCann said the first person to use the app was 55 years old. “Every person who has used it once has used it since. We now have 34 regulars, who are not teenagers, who use it.”

A series of videos explaining both the consumer app and the pharmacy dashboard is online here and here. An Android version of the app is being prepared for the launch of the full service in August.

Posted in Allied Health

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