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E-prescribing arrived in NL community just in time to improve patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic

Compared to traditional prescriptions jotted on doctors’ pads, the PrescribeIT® system ensures greater accuracy and makes life easier for both patients and health care professionals. - Storyblocks Photo.
Compared to traditional prescriptions jotted on doctors’ pads, the PrescribeIT® system ensures greater accuracy and makes life easier for both patients and health care professionals. - Storyblocks Photo.

When Dr. Brenda Penney prescribes medication, she isn’t ripping a piece of paper off a prescription pad and handing it to her patient. She’s tapping the information into her computer, verifying it with the patient’s medical record and history and transmitting it directly to the patient’s pharmacy.

She isn’t sending the prescription via fax or even email. She’s using PrescribeIT® — the only national, not-for-profit e-prescribing service that enhances medication safety and protects patient privacy by transmitting prescriptions directly from a prescriber’s EMR (Electronic Medical Record) to a local pharmacy that uses PrescribeIT®.     

E-prescribing became an invaluable addition to Dr. Penney’s virtual health toolbox when she began using PrescribeIT® over a year ago. Little did she know, it would also become a vital part of her practice with regards to the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the stay-at-home orders began in March 2020, she was grateful to have the system already in place since it allowed vulnerable populations to limit their travels and protect themselves from the virus.

“Prescribers can refill, renew or cancel prescriptions all through a secure system, without patients needing to visit their physician in person [to pick up the prescription],” explains Dr. Penney, a physician in Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador. “It’s helping to keep them safer right now, while we’re living with the (COVID-19) virus.”

Compared to traditional prescriptions jotted on doctors’ pads, Dr. Penney says the PrescribeIT® system ensures greater accuracy and makes life easier for both patients and health care professionals.

“There are far fewer medication-related errors, less risk of losing a prescription, and no one has to come in, pick it up and then take it to the pharmacy,” says Dr. Penney.

Since the prescriptions are paperless, there’s no risk of a patient losing a prescription (and finding it, months later, crumpled at the bottom of their purse, for example). Electronic prescriptions also mean fewer transcription errors.

Using PrescribeIT® means pharmacists aren’t struggling to interpret a prescriber’s rushed scrawls — making e-prescriptions a safer alternative to traditional handwritten prescriptions.

When she mentors medical students from Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine, she always brings them to a pharmacy for half a day to spend time looking at prescriptions.

“I want them to remember that someone on the other end will need to read what they’ve written,” laughs Dr. Penney. “I’ve seen some real hen scratches over the years.”

‘MUCH MORE CONVENIENT AND SECURE’

PrescribeIT® doesn’t rely on faxing or emailing a prescription, avoiding misdirection, mix-ups, and other dangerous confidentiality issues that can occur if the fax number or email address was accidentally entered incorrectly.

Even though Dr. Penney had no idea what was about to happen with COVID-19 when she signed up for PrescribeIT®, she loved that it reduced the need for in-person physician or nurse practitioner visits, especially for her older patients who find it challenging to leave their homes.

With PrescribeIT®, prescribers can refill, renew or cancel prescriptions all through a secure system, without patients needing to visit their physician in person to pick up the prescription. - Storyblocks Photo.
With PrescribeIT®, prescribers can refill, renew or cancel prescriptions all through a secure system, without patients needing to visit their physician in person to pick up the prescription. - Storyblocks Photo.

VIRTUAL MEDICINE ‘THE WAY OF THE FUTURE’

“This system is making it easier for people to adhere to Public Health guidelines and reduce their exposure to the virus. You don’t always need an in-person doctor’s appointment,” says Dr. Penney. “There are a lot of medical concerns that can be addressed without an in-person visit, so virtual medicine in general has really helped my patients. It’s not going away anytime soon — it’s the way of the future.”

After an initial learning curve, Dr. Penny now says it’s “just the press of a button” to transmit prescriptions directly to her patients’ local, preferred pharmacy.

“There are so many benefits. You don’t have to worry about data entry errors or that the pharmacist isn’t able to read the written prescription. There’s also a lot less prescription fraud,” says Dr. Penney. “PrescribeIT® is an important tool in my virtual health toolbox, and it’s been very good for my practice.”

Even after the pandemic is behind us, Dr. Penney says electronic prescriptions and telephone or video medical appointments will still be an option for many patients.

“We have a lot of people who are isolated geographically in small communities,” says Dr. Penney. “They may not be able to drive a long distance to a doctor’s appointment because of bad weather or because they can’t afford it, and now they’re able to have their prescriptions sent directly to their local pharmacy that uses PrescribeIT® so they aren’t going without the medication they need.”

From her practice in Bonavista — more than a three hour drive from St. John’s — Dr. Penney regularly sends prescriptions to pharmacies clear across the province. And when she tells her patients their prescriptions can be sent directly to Bonavista Pharmacy, they’re always pleasantly surprised to hear that’s possible.

“I’ll hear ‘Oh, last time I had to come and pick it up in person.’ They’re really pleased,” says Dr. Penney. “Some of my patients are seniors in their 90s, and they’re glad they don’t have to come out or send someone out for them. It makes things very convenient.”

The one disadvantage to virtual medicine and e-prescribing, she chuckles, is that snow days are a thing of the past for doctors.

“Before, when we’d have a snow day, we’d close the clinic and rebook everyone’s appointments. But now I can just say ‘Change them to a virtual visit,’ and we’ll see what we can see,” says Dr. Penney. “The weather doesn’t keep us from practicing medicine anymore!”

Curious about getting prescriptions sent directly from your physician to your pharmacy, without the need for an in-person appointment? Ask your healthcare provider if they’re using PrescribeIT®, or visit www.prescribeit.ca to learn more.


Prescriptions by the numbers

  • 30 per cent of prescriptions are never filled in Canada
  • 88 per cent of pharmacy staff state that PrescribeIT® improves confidence in authenticating opioid/controlled substance prescriptions
  • 95 per cent of pharmacy staff state PrescribeIT® reduces stolen or fraudulent prescriptions
  • $35M is the cost of lost productivity and travel required by Canadians each year to visit their physician in person to refill or replace a prescription
  • $4B is the approximate healthcare costs the country incurs annually just because people aren’t filling the prescriptions they need

Five patient benefits of using PrescribeIT®

  1. You can secure your prescriptions faster, with no need for an in-person trip to pick up a paper prescription
  2. You’ll save valuable time, since there’s no need to drop off a paper prescription at the pharmacy (and then wander around the aisles, waiting for it to be filled)
  3. Your prescription can’t be lost or damaged (or crumpled on the seat of your car ), so you’re far more likely to have it filled
  4. There’s a significantly decreased risk of privacy breaches due to fax transmission issues or unsecured email — the prescription goes directly from your prescriber to your pharmacist
  5. Improved medication accuracy because your pharmacist isn’t struggling to read a doctor’s handwriting

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