eHealth systematization by NHS leads to increase in use of electronic prescribing systems.

Pharmacy2U Supporting the Switch to Digital Health Provision in the UK

The relatively unknown English town of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire is starting to gain fame as being one of the first places where large numbers of family doctors and patients of the UK National Health Service (NHS) are making the switch to online medical prescriptions. The government wants everyone in the country to have access to online healthcare services and it will be interesting to see whether Mansfield provides a useful testing ground for the NHS to learn about the wider opportunities afforded by e-health and the issues for implementation. Following the electronic prescription switch-on, one of the services available is a free repeat prescription service provided under NHS-contract by mail-order pharmacy Pharmacy2U. The company, together with a number of local bricks-and-mortar pharmacies, is enabled for using the NHS Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), which has been developed and financed by the NHS under its National Programme for IT and appears to be finding favour with the patients of UK General Practitioners (GPs) – local family doctors.

EPS-enabled online pharmacy

The online pharmacy platform provides a free NHS mail order repeat prescription service. The service is aimed primarily at patients suffering from chronic illnesses who need repeat prescriptions on a regular basis. It should also prove convenient for people who find it hard to get to the doctor and the pharmacy for health reasons, and should in addition help to reduce the GPs’ workload. Rather than the doctor having to write out a prescription by hand in the traditional manner, EPS enables medical practitioners to digitise the prescription, together with details of dose frequency and medication period, and save it to a database.  Pharmacy2U will take on the task of organising repeat prescriptions for those patients who have nominated it, or can receive requests for repeat prescriptions from GPs through the EPS system. Once the prescription has been registered and verified using electronic signature systems, the patient can have his/her medicines delivered directly through the platform, at no extra charge. Pharmacy2U’s unique repeat prescription reminder service and prescription synchronisation service promise to ensure that patients are receiving their repeat medication before running out of existing supplies and to assist them in adherence to medication schedules.  

Mansfield the ‘shop window’ for e-health?

Aside from the clear benefits to patients, this electronic approach could also lead to a drastic reduction in health-related costs. General Practitioners, whose schedules are often overloaded with patients turning up just to request a repeat prescription, are likely to see part of this workload disappear, allowing them more time for patients with urgent needs. On a wider scale, this is a first step towards standardising digital procedures which support e-health services. However, while providing this innovative way of handling repeat prescriptions, the NHS is aware of the dangers of the digital divide and has not yet made EPS the only option. The initiative certainly highlights the ability of the NHS, which has not in recent years enjoyed a reputation for efficient management and innovation, to modernise and reinvent itself.  If the initiative is a success, it could become the model for e-health provision in Europe. However, while the role of Pharmacy2U is clearly valuable in supporting and helping to drive the EPS system, bricks-and-mortar pharmacies will need to get onside fast if they are to stand up to this quasi-monopolistic competition in the field of NHS-reimbursed medicines.

By Quentin Capelle