Prescription drug abuse is now a leading public health and safety concern in Canada. That's why handwritten prescriptions or faxes of them not only are archaic, but are potentially dangerous.
"It's time we moved into the electronic age and got rid of the fax machine," says William Neil, a retired Ontario Provincial Police officer whose prescription was the first to be sent through PrescribeIT, a new electronic prescribing service, in August. "I like that my prescription is sent quickly and safely to my pharmacy."
Following his medical appointment at the Algonquin Family Health Team in Huntsville, Ont., he walked next door to Remedy'sRx Muskoka Medical Pharmacy, where his prescription was waiting for him.
"It's that fast," says Neil. "I didn't have to carry a piece of paper and worry about misplacing or losing it."
Canada Health Infoway (Infoway) is working with Health Canada and the provinces and territories to develop PrescribeIT, which will serve all Canadians, pharmacies and prescribers. The solution provides safer and more effective medication management by allowing prescribers to transmit a prescription between the patient's electronic medical record (EMR) and the pharmacy management system.
"PrescribeIT will help to protect Canadians' personal health information while improving patient safety and reducing prescription opioid misuse and fraud," said Bobbi Reinholdt, Infoway's PrescribeIT division executive.
This issue is perhaps more relevant than ever. Medication is now the second-largest area of health-care spending in Canada, almost doubling to 16 per cent from 8.8 per cent of overall health expenditures over the past 40 years, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Between 2000 and 2010, Canadians' use of prescription opioids increased 203 per cent; today, Canada is the world's second-largest per capita consumer of prescription opioids.
Yet, last year, community pharmacists reported that five in 10 prescriptions they receive are handwritten (either brought in by the patient or faxed); four in 10 are electronically generated (but still brought in by the patient or auto-faxed); and one in 10 are submitted by telephone. Only a small proportion are electronically transmitted by the prescriber and received at the dispensing pharmacy. This leaves the system open to errors, misuse and fraud.
"In the short time we've been using PrescribeIT, we've seen benefits for the pharmacy and our patients," says Bill Coon, pharmacist/owner at Remedy'sRx Muskoka Medical Pharmacy. And he expects to see further benefits in the next iteration of the software, which will allow him to connect with a prescriber in near-real-time.
"If the prescription comes through and I have concerns about duplication or a drug interaction, rather than phoning back to the doctor's office, relaying that through a clerk, I'll be able to write a quick note specific to that prescription, which shows up on doctor's [computer] dashboard immediately," he says. "Nothing gets lost in translation that way. That's one of the things I'm really excited about."
Infoway has already reached agreements with six provinces, representing 61 per cent of the Canadian population. PrescribeIT is also working with 20 community pharmacy companies, with local, regional and national reach, representing more than 3,300 stores. Rollout to other provinces and territories will begin in 2018.
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation