26 August 2021

Most specialists soon to lose remote prescribing capabilities

COVID-19 Know Cents Technology

Digital image prescribing will end on 30 September 2021, with the Department of Health mandating the move to electronic prescriptions.

Many rheumatologists will be left in the lurch with some popular practice management software still unable to issue eScripts.

“It’s a constant frustration for our clinic that we can’t use ePrescriptions,” said BJC Health rheumatologist Dr Irwin Lim. “Our vendor, for variety of reasons, has not been prioritised or has not prioritised it.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said “it is disappointing that some software vendors have chosen to delay the roll-out of ePrescribing functionality, despite receiving taxpayer-funded incentive payments.”

However, not all software vendors were included in the government’s incentivised ‘fast-track’ program last year. According to Genie CEO James Scollay, the fast-track program was invitation only and offered better tax-incentives and support than 2021’s offering. “Let’s say we were disappointed not to have been invited,” he said.

Genie software is popular with rheumatologists and services roughly 65% of private specialist in Australia yet does not provide ePrescribing functionality.

Mr Scollay said that Genie “will absolutely deliver” on the ePrescription functionality but could not confirm if that would be before the 30 September. “We’re investing in doing it right,” he said. “We just can’t give a definite date.”

Other vendors such as Audit-4 and Best Practice Software already conform with the national ePrescribing standards. Best Practice Software said on its website that it had  issued the first ePrescription in Australia.

The company has also offered a virtual masterclass with Australian Digital Health Agency experts answering common questions about ePrescriptions.

Electronic prescribing, or ePrescribing, requires software to convert a script into a digital token – a QR code. This token is sent to the patient via SMS text, email or via a smartphone app.

This is different image-based scripts – also called digital image prescriptions – which allowed a doctor to send a photo or fax of a paper script to a pharmacy. Digital image scripts were an interim measure introduced to support telehealth during covid.

A Department of Health spokesperson said an original deadline to cease image based scripts was extended six months to September 30 to allow more time for health professionals to get on board. 

According to the Department of Health, the new cessation date was communicated extensively, including to the AMA, RACGP, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and AHPRA.

Australian territories, however, are protected from the deadline under their own legislation but all states must conform within the next five weeks. NSW has one less day with a 29 September compliance date.

Emergency supply arrangements, which existed prior to the covid pandemic, will remain available.

Department of Health factsheets provide extra details on exceptions and state and territory requirements. The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia also issued a summary of changes to digital image prescriptions.

Although the PSA advised that information on regulatory changes is rapidly and constantly changing, the Department of Health appear very certain about this one thing – no more faxing, emailing or texting scripts after 30 September.