Posted on June 2, 2020 by Anne Baldwin
When PrescribeIT® launched in Lethbridge, AB, in February 2018, it was the first community in the province to use the e-prescribing service. It was also among the first in the country. As early adopters, Lethbridge prescribers and pharmacists had a unique opportunity to help make the service the best it could be, a prospect they actively took up.
“We were one of the initial PrescribeIT® users,” says Dr. David Steward, a physician with Family Medical Centre in Lethbridge. “We tested it and tried to help alleviate some of the challenges that were initially there.”
This hard work happened more than two years ago. The world has changed drastically since. The COVID-19 pandemic has left the health care system facing unprecedented challenges, including the need to physically distance in order to slow the virus’s transmission. To keep clinicians and patients safe, many countries, including Canada, have embraced virtual tools as a means of providing routine health care.
The early adoption of e-prescribing by clinics in Lethbridge and other communities has allowed for a seamless transition to a “virtual-first” model. Since prescriptions are transmitted directly from a prescriber’s electronic medical record (EMR) to a pharmacy management system (PMS), patients don’t need to travel between offices and pharmacies, reducing the risk of infection for themselves and others.
“Handling papers at this time is really not a good idea,” says Dr. Sherine Ibrahim from Legacy Medical Clinic. “Even faxing a prescription means multiple people are handling it, so e-prescribing is definitely safer.”
While physical distancing is necessary for safety, it brings its own challenges. Isolation can increase feelings of stress and anxiety. Even though Canadians need to stay apart, we still need to stay connected. For Dr. Ibrahim, that means turning to video visits for a face-to-face connection. By integrating tools like e-prescribing and e-visits now, she believes her practice will be better equipped to handle future health crises.
“A lot of the ways of working that we’re getting used to right now will continue post-COVID,” she says. “It gives us an excuse to really improve our technology and e-services. With PrescribeIT® already integrated into our workflow, it made transitioning to a virtual office a lot easier. But there were so many other ways that we, and the entire industry, weren’t ready for this, and we’ll do it better next time.”
For Dr. Stewart, e-prescribing with PrescribeIT® has improved communications between prescribers and pharmacies, making many in-person visits unnecessary.
“Pharmacies can easily request a refill from me and if I have any questions, I can just phone the patient,” he says. “In the COVID-19 environment, virtual care actually becomes the rule rather than the exception. We can take care of a lot of issues without the patient and me ever having to physically see other.”
In 2018, Lethbridge’s prescribers and pharmacists couldn’t have foreseen the vital role that digital health tools would play in supporting our health care system during a global health crisis. But early adoption of digital tools and services like e-prescribing has helped lay a foundation for this virtual-first approach. Through COVID-19 and beyond, we can keep building on this success.
“I’m definitely glad PrescribeIT® exists,” says Dr. Stewart. “It’s certainly the way of the future.”
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Anne Baldwin began her career as a nurse and has focused on digital health initiatives for the past few years and now is actively involved in PrescribeIT®.