Digital health to the rescue

Pharmacies across Australia will have electronic prescriptions available by the end of May to ease stresses created by the telehealth system.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) announced the new initiative under the Australian Government’s National Health Plan for COVID-19 to support primary care during the pandemic.

“Electronic prescriptions are now being fast-tracked to allow patients to receive vital healthcare services while maintaining physical distancing and, where necessary, isolation,” ADHA says.

“This will allow people in self-isolation convenient access to their medicines and will lessen the risk of infection being spread in general practice waiting rooms and at community pharmacies.”

The plan is designed to support telehealth and will allow a doctor to produce an electronic prescription that patients can then share with a pharmacy.

The solution offers an alternative to paper prescriptions by using a unique QR barcode token sent via an app, SMS or email to the consumer.

Dr Andrew Rochard in ADHA’s campaign about the benefits of technology in health care. Source: Australian Digital Health Agency.

ADHA interim CEO Bettina McMahon says the fast-tracked adoption of this technology is vital in response to COVID-19 and will keep a connected healthcare system for Australia.

“The use of technology in healthcare has never been more critical, and Australia is in a better position than many other countries when it comes to digital health,” she says.

The Morrison government announced the COVID-19 health care package last month, providing $100 million to fund a telehealth system which allows health consultations via phones or videos.  

However, this has created an awkward structure for both pharmacists and doctors who have to fax, email, and eventually post prescriptions to allow for the supply of medications.

Perth pharmacist Karla Rova says the situation has been very stressful for pharmacists who’ve felt the added pressure from the increase in demand and double handling of paperwork.

Scripts on the shelf awaiting collection at a Perth pharmacy. Photo: Samantha Cooke.

To ease the strain on pharmacists, several states now allow patients to access one month’s supply of prescription medicine they’ve used previously where they do not have a prescription or are unable to obtain one.

Additionally, the government has allowed community pharmacists to substitute dose strengths or medicine forms without prior approval from the doctor where the medicine is unavailable during dispensing.

The Pharmacy Guild welcomes these changes from the government under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) which allow patients to receive their medicines from the pharmacist immediately.

Pharmacy Guild president George Tambassis says in the midst of a health crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes, this initiative will help pharmacists across Australia to manage medicines for patients.

“Australians need reassurance we’re on the frontline caring for them,” says Mr Tambassis.

“This decision by Minister Hunt means pharmacists have a greater ability to care for our patients.”

Categories: COVID-19, Health

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