Adapting to digital health technologies

Nearly all Australian pharmacies are now registered for the My Health Record, following an increase in the use of technology brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points:

  • Data from the Australian Digital Health Agency shows 97% of pharmacies are now registered for My Health Record.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift to digital health, but pharmacists are still adapting to long-term changes, including the introduction of electronic prescriptions.
  • PSA has launched a dedicated support line to assist pharmacists and pharmacy staff with this.
    Pharmacists can call 1300 955 162 from Monday to Friday between 8:30 am and 7:00 pm EST or email

New data from the Australian Digital Health Agency shows the number of pharmacies registered for the system increased from 91% to 97% in May. Pharmacists viewing and uploading documents also increased nearly 10%, to 78% and there are now more than 136 million medicine-related documents in the system, including prescription and dispensing notes. 

Australian Digital Health Agency Interim CEO Bettina McMahon said social distancing requirements implemented due to the novel coronavirus had shifted the focus to digital health, including telehealth consultations and digital image prescriptions, and helped fast-track the adoption of technology. 

‘This trend is moving in the right direction, but there is so much more we need to do,’ she said.

‘Now that more healthcare providers have used digital health, and consumers have experienced the convenience, the time is right to embed new ways of providing health services into the healthcare system of the future. People are ready for this.’

The pandemic may have necessitated a shift to digital health, but pharmacists are still adapting to long-term changes. The fast-tracked implementation of electronic prescriptions, for example, has caused some pharmacists anxiety and confusion.

Although the introduction of electronic prescriptions is a positive step for pharmacists and their patients, PSA Professional Support Advisor Bill Wallace MPS, who provides advice through PSA’s new electronic prescriptions support line, says it is an adjustment period.  

‘We’ve been getting calls about everything from when electronic prescribing will start to how to get it set up,’ he told Australian Pharmacist.

‘We also have people asking about legislation requirements.’

This is complex as different jurisdictions have approached electronic prescriptions in various ways. Some states have had to take more steps to put the legislation in place, and there have also been specific state-based software conformance requirements to finalise.

Mr Wallace pointed to PSA’s electronic prescriptions web page, which sets out the legislation in all states and territories, as a starting point for pharmacists wanting more information.

Worth the wait

The first electronic prescription was dispensed in Australia in May, but a number of community pharmacists AP approached for this story were all still in the process of implementing the system.

This corresponds with Mr Wallace’s experience. The majority of pharmacists who phoned the advice line were interested in getting started and wanted to know where to begin, he said. First steps included registering for a healthcare identifier and ensuring your pharmacy can connect to prescription delivery services. He also recommended contacting your software and hardware providers.

‘A lot of pharmacies already have these in place, but it varies,’ he said.

‘Some pharmacies don’t actually need to do anything, while others need to start from scratch. It’s very individual depending on where they are in the process of adopting these technologies.

‘It’s also important to talk to your staff about electronic prescriptions and the workflow that may need to be implemented, because it is a change.’

The most important thing to note is that electronic prescribing is here to stay and will be beneficial, Mr Wallace said.

‘It will help reduce paperwork and increase medicine safety by reducing prescribing and dispensing errors,’ he said.

‘It will also make things more efficient and hopefully reduce the number of prescriptions that are faxed. It should make things easier for pharmacists.’ 

It will also provide consumers with more convenient access to medicines – provided pharmacists are ready.

‘If a pharmacy isn’t set up and a doctor has started using electronic prescriptions, patients may have trouble accessing their medicines,’ Mr Wallace said.

‘We don’t want this – we really want pharmacists to be ready.’